Two Tools to Remedy Over-Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

I was reminded this week while working with a client that it is the little things that mess up communication at work.

“Oh, I thought you meant confirm the budget first, not go ahead and sign the contract!” (and now we are a week behind)

“I thought you were calling the client back, not me? He called today annoyed.” 

“I didn’t get that you wanted it done that way.”

Many of our clients at Moementum, Inc. interpret messages they hear from training, from media stories, and even from MBA schools, that “there is no such thing as too much communication” and yet the evidence is clear that volumes of messaging do not necessarily increase the effectiveness of communication between people. In fact, even though there is more communication going on in organizations now via meetings and memos and emails than ever before, huge communication problems perseverate.

The specifics of communication, Timing, Context and Clarity, matter greatly.

Here are two simple tools to use at work that can alleviate miscommunication and provide an alternative to the overwhelming process of sharing every nuance with every colleague all the time (which is just plain exhausting).

  1. Ask

When communicating with someone at work (whether up or down the hierarchy or across functions) it makes a huge difference if you create parameters that set the stage for the right level of detail and volume. Do so by asking questions such as:

 What do you think?

– What do you hope to accomplish in this conversation?

– What do you need from me?

– Where are you stuck?

– How do you see this situation?

  1. Tell

This is where you offer information to another person, revealing your hand, or what you know. Telling is when you advocate for your view or perspective. Specifically, telling should:

– Offer what you need:

“I expect it done this way…” “What I’d like to see….” “I am hoping to…”

– Confirm what you know or believe:

“What I know so far is…,” “The way I see it is…”

If the communication you are working on involves a group (team or whole company) these two simple tools can also help you prepare your thinking for written or large group formats. By putting yourself in the shoes of the receivers of your messaging, you can appropriately target the purpose of your communication.

1. What do I think these people want/need to know about this issue? (Ask)

2. What is important for me to communicate to this group at this time? (Tell)

Most often, well-intended people at work focus on the one-way communication effort of just telling. Sadly, this narrow view puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the sender to get it right (perfect) to ensure that the receiver has all the information they need. In reality, the best communication is a two-way process, where both the sender and the receiver have a role in ensuring understanding and even more importantly, meaning in the messaging. When we convey information by balancing our ASKS and our TELLS, we add relevance and meaning. Communication must carry meaning, or else it becomes simply noise.

Jim Morris