Most people in Technology struggle with communication… better yet, most people in business struggle with communication. I’m no exception to that, but I’m working on it. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned and implemented to help me with communication.
One of the reasons some of us are bad at communication is due to fear. We’re afraid to let people that we don’t know, what we don’t know. We’re afraid that they will think less of us or something… But really, if we only new how little they already think of us, then we wouldn’t care what they think of us. By little there, I mean how little time they spend thinking about us. Think about, how much time do you think about the last time someone misspoke in a meeting, or said something in a funny, out of context way? Not much right. You may have thought about if for a few minutes at most then it was gone. If you do mess up, its only going to last a short while. In episode 7 I spoke about overcoming fear, check that out to find out more.
Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor published some research that showed 7% of the message received is through the words you actually say, 38% through vocal tonality used, and 55% through non-verbal communication (body language, etc). Now, did you read that? That means 93% of our communication is NOT the words that come out of your mouth… but more importantly, its how those words are used. Now, I’m not a believer that this rule is 100% true 100% of the time. That’s one thing that bites us a techies. We like hard, fast rules that are always true. But situational awareness will also dictate a lot of the messages being received through the communication. For example, if you’re in a crisis, things will be take very seriously and literally, but if you’re out with friends, people may think you’re joking or being more sarcastic. But the spirit of the rule still applies, most of our communication is non-verbal.
We all get too many emails. Keeping them short and to the point is super important. Also remember that only 7% of our communication comes from the words we say. So how the person is reading your email is largely how they will interpret it. That, along with the situation they are in when they get the email. For example, if you send me a humorous email that makes a jab at me or says something sarcastic, but I’m in a bad mood and going through an outage with a system at work when I get it, I may not get the sarcasm or the joke and it may come a cross pretty bad. I have a rule of 4 with my team and email. All emails should be 4 sentences or less… or at least that’s the goal. With the 100s of emails that I get every day, I find that I usually start to zone out after about 4 sentences and then I’m likely to either skim or skip the remaining sentences in the message. This is bad for both me and you. Its best for business emails to be short and to the point. Recognize that we’re all busy and we have work to do, and that your email is interrupting someone’s work. So keep it short. There are of course exceptions to this, like when you’re documenting a meeting or prior conversation, or sending someone information that they requested. Emails that they request are different than ones you interrupt them with.
Another rule that I follow with email is the back and forth rule of 4. If an email goes back and forth more than 4 times (2 from me and 2 from you) then we aren’t getting anywhere. I mean, seriously, we’re missing 93% of the message right :). So after 4 times, get up and go talk to the person, or call them or find another means of communication, like messenger, skype or slack. But bear in mind that these communication channels also have limitations. Face-to-face doesn’t have documentation, so its good to send a “Same Day Summary” back to the person just to recap the who, what and when of that conversation in a documented form, allowing them to correct anything that might have been miscommunicated. Phone and skype work the same way, but there is also the disadvantage of body language and non-verbal queues. But vocal tonality will at least get you to 45% of the message.
I speak more in depth on this one on Episode 4, so I’ll like that episode for the details, but in short, be direct, authentic and unapologetic.
If you’re not good at communicating, practice. Just like anything else in life, the more time you put into it and the more you practice at it, the better you will get. Practice speaking up at meetings, having face to face conversation, keeping emails short, etc.
Another thing to do is to batch requests. Batch your communication request to reduce the amount of interruptions you’re causing for other people and yourself.
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