To Communicate Better, Communicate Less

TempToday, we are all overwhelmed with communication of one type or another– too many and too mixed messages from our supervisors, too many E-Mails, too much information. In trying to absorb and process the daily blitz of messages and communication, we can easily lose our ability to focus on the important.

“As communication grows ever easier, the important thing is detecting whispers of useful information in a howling hurricane of noise.”

Schumpeter in The Economist

What can we each of us do to reduce this onslaught of communication?

  1. Managerial and Leadership Restraint
    1. As managers, we need to keep our communication focused on the important 3 – 5 issues for each of our associates. Yes, this means that sometimes we let some things slide in order not to send mixed messages about what the top 3 – 5 priorities are.
  2. Communicate Less and Less Often
    1. This means shorter communication. We need to keep it brief, keep it to the point and move on.
    2. This means aggregating communication. We need to follow up with someone once about five different items rather than five times each time with one item. The advantage of this communication aggregation is that it becomes obvious that meeting briefly with someone in person or picking up the phone is far superior to discuss the five issues through E-Mail. Thus, can we reduce the inane amounts of E-Mails.
  3. Reduce the E-Mails: Books can and have been written about how to reduce the E-Mail clutter filling up our In-boxes and our lives. The solution is simple to write down, but difficult to put in practice; we need to only E-Mail when we have something substantive to communicate and only E-Mail to the person to whom we have to say it.
    1. We need to reduce the number of people to whom we send an E-Mail: If more than 5, we need to re-think it. We should all remember that not everyone needs to know everything.
    2. For Heaven’s Sake, we should not use Reply All
    3. We need to stop the Thank You’s: We are all in favor of finding someone doing something right every day. But, face reality, our E-Mail thank you’s are about as vacuous as it gets (especially if Reply All is involved). If we want to thank someone for a job very well done, we need to say it in person or pick up the phone and give a call.
    4. We need to make it easy for the person to respond to our E-Mails: We should be brief yet crystal clear about what we want. If we give a paint- by- numbers approach and are specific, we allow the person to know exactly what they need to do and how to get it done. This prevents the endless series of clarification E-Mails. And it limits the times when the person parks the complex E-Mail to respond later (and inevitably forgets and never responds)
    5. We cannot be the problem: This week, we should all keep track of the number of E-Mails we send and the number of people to whom these messages were sent. If our numbers are above 100 E-Mails a week to a total of 150 people, we need to think hard and consider ways to reduce. If our numbers are above 200 E-Mails a week to a total of more than 300 people, then we are the E-Mail clutter problem.

By limiting our communication, by reducing the noise, and by restraining ourselves, we can free up time and attention for ourselves and for our teams to focus on what we all need to focus on: the most important ideas and initiatives to improve the performance and growth of our businesses.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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