The other day I was in my office finalizing a proposal I had to submit that day. I was tired, stressed, and had FINALLY gotten into the flow of writing, when my cell phone rang.
I glanced down and recognized the name of the caller, but made the decision NOT to answer it, because I just needed 10 more minutes to finish up. Five seconds after my cell stopped ringing, it chimed indicating I’d received a text message . . . from the same person who had just called. I ignored that as well. Just as I’d refocused my attention on the proposal . . .
This time, it was my office phone ringing. I looked at the display and surprise surprise, it was the SAME PERSON AGAIN. At first I was annoyed, but then I thought, “Maybe it’s an emergency, since he’s trying so hard to get a hold of me, ” so I answered the call.
“Oh, hi! I’m glad I caught you. I just wanted to be sure you got the email I sent you a few minutes ago about Dave’s birthday lunch next month.”
Being someone who specializes in communication, I have to first say that I love the fact that we have so many ways available to us to communicate quickly and stay in touch with others. That being said, if the story above made you uncomfortable because you’ve been guilty of using every communication method at your disposal to get in contact with someone, you just might be suffering from what I like to call Communication-itis.
Common symptoms of Communication-itis include:
- communicating too much information,
- communicating too frequently,
- communicating with too many people (especially when they don’t care or the communication has nothing to do with them), and
- using too many words to communicate something simple.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms of Communication-itis, here are six remedies that will help cure this troublesome condition.
- Plan what you want to communicate before you do so. Begin with your goal in mind. Need to send an email to customers letting them know you’re having a price increase? Ask yourself, “what will they want to know?” If the answer is, “how much of an increase and why?”, then just answer those two questions as simply as possible. If there are 30 reasons why, pick the 2-3 most critical reasons and share those up front in your email. For conversations, taking the time to plan them before having them will increase the odds that you can have conversations that are direct, succinct, and more likely to stay on track.
- Don’t say something in 25 words when five will do. I really think I learned the value of eliminating unnecessary words when helping students edit their 500-word college essays. It’s amazing how many extraneous words you can cut from an essay when there’s a strict word limit. Once you’ve written something, go back and re-read it to see if there is unnecessary information or extra words you can be cut. People are more likely to read a two paragraph email than one with six paragraphs.
- Once you’ve said what you need to say, stop. Whether in writing, in person, or on the phone, once you’ve shared the information you need to share, stop. Don’t restate it or give 20 examples of it, just stop.
- Don’t “reply all” or “cc” several people when only one (or a few) people need to know. The abuse of “reply all” is one of my biggest pet peeves. If I send out an email asking people to indicate whether they want Pizza or Subway for lunch, those people don’t need to “reply all” to let me and 100 other people know they want pizza for lunch. There is similar abuse of the “cc” or carbon copy email feature. Everybody doesn’t need to be kept in the loop on everything. Communicate only with those who really need to know and realize that if you miss someone, you can always send the information later.
- When in doubt, ask. Much of the time, people over-communicate because they’re afraid their message won’t be received, such as the person who calls your cell phone, office phone, and texts you just to ask if you’ve read the email she sent. Therefore, when in doubt, ask those with whom you communicate what they want to know, how much, how often, and the best way to communicate with them. By finding out their preferences, you’ll save yourself time and save others frustration.
- If it doesn’t help someone else learn or grow, keep it to yourself. Just because something may be true, doesn’t mean it needs to be shared. In several of my workshops, I share the story of a dinner party I attended where a guest made a point of stating, in a fairly snooty tone, “It sure is interesting having white wine served in a Cabernet glass.” Really? Was that necessary to share in front of seven other people? Even if the person’s intent was innocent and she wanted to educate the hostess about properly serving wine, the conversation could have been held privately at another time.
Do you know any other remedies for Communication-itis that you’d like to share? Comment and let us know.
Amy Castro is a workplace communication expert, speaker, trainer, and writer of The Performance Communication Blog. She also authored the book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.