Wednesday, January 28, 2009


You would think that with all the options for communication in our very busy 21st century world, that our ability to communicate would be better than ever. I find that with most of the people I work with, that they'd say that communication is worse than it has ever been. The problem seems to come from distraction, not from an intent not to communicate.

I've taken a lot of seminars and courses in communication over the last 20 years, whether it was while I was in the Army, college or corporate time management training, the key item all 3 warn their students about is disruption. Disruption of your thought process, leads to poor communication. They all tell you that you need to set time aside each day for each type of work that you do. This includes strategic/long term thinking, operational work (getting things done that include your day to day job) and communication (phone calls (returning messages) answering emails, twitter, SMS, social media status updates -whatever forms you have). You can see that the list of communications options is really getting a bit crazy - and most of them have great potential to interrupt your other efforts. Let's look at the list one more time - just to make sure we are really taking into account everything you have that is making noise during your day to interrupt your train of thought:

  1. Phone Calls (office phone)
  2. Phone Calls (cell phone)
  3. SMS/Text Messages (cell phone)
  4. Email (notification from your pc/mac)
  5. Email (blackberry/iPhone)
  6. Twitter (tweetdeck, etc)
  7. Instant Messaging
I'm sure there are more options on the number of active communications/disruption devices you have that can interrupt your train of thought - or even the other forms of communications (you are trying to answer emails, and you keep getting IM chats popping up, or your phone keeps beeping that you have another text message).

The result is that you may be sending out requests for information in order to do your job better, but then not responding back to others, because you have so many other devices vying for your attention. The basic principles of time management still apply. You need to create discipline into each device and know exactly how and when you are going to respond to each one. I'm sure many will say 'they are all important things I'm waiting to get status on!!" The problem is that if everything is imprtant, then nothing is important. Important by definition indicates that it stands out from the other items.

These new forms of communication are arriving in front of us much faster than we can adapt, as a society, and the result is that a lot more falls through the cracks of our own personal customer service. It's easy to want to be all things to all people, all the time, but the reality is that success will come from effectively communicating expectations. When can you really get back to something. How often can you really watch the form of cummunication that you expect from that person. You even need to come to an agreement with each communiction goal you have, as to which form of communication will be the preferred method, so that you can determine what percentage of your time neeeds to be devoted to it (time management).

We can't avoid new forms of communication. Our business depends on communicating in the ways that our customers, bosses, and peers are the most effective, and adpting to them as quickly as we can (if our goal is customer service - which we mostly are). Just remember to be honest with yourself, determine how often you can really commit to that form of communication, and make sure to let others know what it is. Don't speak generally, be specific. Transparency is more than just open communication, it's also effective communication.

Photo Credit visions by kai


Rich Strauss said...

Patrick and I think about your topics every day. Most notably, we've learned that many problems go away or fix themselves if we DON'T respond them right away.

For a long time we were JohnnyOnTheSpot with answering emails, fixing things, giving feedback and in general communicating with our customers, to the point that we had created with them unrealistic or inconvenient expectations. Expectations of nearly instant turnaround, detailed replies on weekends, etc. The fix? We have directed nearly all of our email to an admin account and have created an autoresponder message telling people we got it and will get back to within 48hrs. Realistic expectations and more cycle of email begets email begats email.

Probably 80% less information flowing through the pipeline now, all quality.


Keith Pape said...

Thanks Rich,
I think each person has to handle that type of communication according to their daily demands, and for many folks, it's exactly like you and coach P are handling it, and it works extremely well. Thanks for participating.