12.05.2020

Can You Over-Communicate?

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Can You Over-Communicate?

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With the enforced ‘Work from Home!’ message came commentary that managers should do more communication than they expect they need to do. With more changes coming, there needs to be continuing communication to make sure everyone knows what is expected next and if there are any issues getting the way. Over communication is useful to build a feeling of mutual support while people adjust. For many, working from home may become the new business as usual and managers will worry that maintaining that level of communication will be exhausting. Of course, there needs to be an adjustment as people become more accustomed to the new way of working – some may already be there and worrying why their manager won’t trust them to get on with the work!  They will tell you the answer to my headline question: yes, you can over communicate.

Working with a remote team means there are many ways to stay in touch: shared documents, social media, video conference, email, and phone and much of the communication planning courses focus on which method to use for which purpose. Some working methods prescribe certain sorts of meetings with specific agendas that may work well when everyone is in the same place but don’t work in the same way now everyone has their own work/life blend of responsibilities. At least one person has flexed their working hours around home schooling or overnight “on-call” duty for an elderly relative. Some may soon be “returning to work” while others continue their “lockdown office arrangements.

If you work with an international team and have “coffee break” with colleagues in Australia or Tokyo, you can build relationships you may have previously had to get on a plane to develop. Your “normal hours” team would still get your notes and the occasional phone call as if you were away from the office.  This was possible in 1990 (I did it.) but the enabling technology is far better in 2020.

We all prefer how we want to receive important information. We all have a preference in how we give information. The two channels might not be the same.  Have you ever heard conversations like this?

“I’ll email you the report”

“just tell me the numbers”

“I don’t know them off the top of my head”

“What? How can you not know your numbers?”

“I don’t want to misquote them. I have them right here.”

Chances are this is a numerate extrovert who prefers to hear (aural) information demanding data from an introverted (prefers to write) “big pictures” person. This mismatch and lack of emotional intelligence will lead to a lack of trust between them. These mismatches are amplified when people work remotely.

 

A whole day of conference calls or reading emails can be draining and unproductive. Time for thinking and other work is squeezed out adding to overall stress. That isn’t helpful to productivity.  Lockdown may be eased for some in a few weeks. For others, working away from the office will continue. Managers need to start planning how they will maintain the right level of communication in the coming month.

 

Planning communication means you need to consider several things:

  • What do you need to communicate?
  • Who needs to participate?
  • Who is the audience and how do you get their attention?
  • What information or action do you need to result from the communication?
  • When works best? What else is being communicated at that time (conflicting messages)?
  • Does this need to be real time?
  • What is the best medium for the other person, so they get the message and take the action?

Then there is one more branch of your communication plan to consider, the team:

  • What communication needs to happen so that the team are ready for the communication plan events?
  • How do you ensure transparency within and between teams to make sure everyone understands the current (real) status, where the issues sit and what is to be done next?
  • How do you ensure the team know what information is internal (for the team) and what can be shared outside?

You sometimes need to acknowledge that your transparency must have limits.  For example, there is a big difference between telling a customer about the headline reason for a decision and involving them in all the details. The customer only needs information to understand the situation so they can take appropriate action. The team need to know more specific, possibly uncomfortable details to make sure that preparation happens in time for the customer’s actions.

 

What Your Purpose?

Just as you don’t want to overload the customer with unnecessary information, you don’t want your team to be overloaded with communication either.  Planning communication and coordinating when that happens can save the team many hours later. Understanding the purpose of a communication is important in helping high priority communication events to be identified or similar events to be grouped for efficiency.

There are many purposes for communication in a business. Be clear about why you are communicating before you start.

 

Which Mediums or Channel?

There are many options for communication. pick which ones work for your home workers. Zoom fatigue and email overload might make a scheduled one-to-one call important for some messages. If you need to tell everyone at once, a webinar might work. Bad or incomplete news in an email doesn’t help the feedback loop or team motivation.

Think carefully about your audience: to whom are you sending your message? How will you make sure they understand what you mean? What language and vocabulary works for that? Does their preferred way to be contacted matter (think different about their communication or learning habits)?

The message and the way it is delivered need to support each other. The wrong channel can change the meaning to your message: it is how it is received and understood that matters. Give some time to thinking about how you want your message to be received and the reaction you need. Shape the medium and message together.

 

Plan, Work the Plan, Reflect, Revise the Plan

For a team leader a regular pattern of communication will help organise their own time and give the right signals to the team. That promotes effective working. However, all plans are initial intentions based on the information at the time. The realities of work may give you better ideas. Gather feedback, reflect, and update your plan periodically.

  • Team Leadership
  • Communications & Engagement
  • virtual managers

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