Making Smart Communication Choices Will Lead To More Expedient And More Informed Decision-Making.
By Thomas J Roach
For exempt personnel, most productivity issues are communication issues. We accomplish our objectives by exchanging information, negotiating and coordinating our activities with others. This is especially true for those with leadership responsibilities.
Looked at from the communication perspective, all discussion and decision-making is addressed through channels. These channels include face-to-face conversations, meetings, email, postings and news releases. We receive and send messages though these channels.
From the perspective of productivity, we either do or do not have the right information when we make decisions, and we may or may not communicate our decisions clearly, through the right channels, or to the right people, and we may or may not resolve issues in a timely manner.
Most of the time when someone is being unproductive it is not because of a lack of interest or laziness. We fail usually because the wrong channel is selected, because the right information is not gathered or because the message is not clear.
Professionals who see communication as a necessary skillset make tactical choices when they research and communicate, and as a result they make better decisions, accomplish more tasks and acquire more responsibility.
The tactical communication option that is most ignored is channel selection. Currently most exempt employees are trying to accomplish all of their tasks through email. Email has its uses, but it can also be a barrier to timely, effective decision-making.
The biggest problem with email is its overuse. Current research is showing that the average office worker spends more than 25 percent of his or her time each day reading and answering email.
A more hidden problem with email is that it exponentially extends the time it takes to resolve problems and make decisions. Compare an email exchange to a conversation. Four emails back and forth between two people with three others copied in is as efficient as a conversation in terms of the time spent sending and receiving the message, but the time it takes for the five parties to get to the email in their inboxes and read and respond is stretched out over days. And if other issues are dependent on the resolution of the issue, then the delay is compounded.
A more expedient process involves walking over to someone’s office and having the exchange all at once. Sometimes a meeting is more useful. Think of conversation as a series of spoken emails. One meeting might contain over 100 emails worth of information, and the decision is made in 30 minutes instead of 30 days.
Meetings are also often misused. The best use of meetings is for the exchange of information. If a manager calls a meeting and doesn’t let members of the group add items to the agenda and doesn’t encourage them to express themselves freely, then the manager would have been more effective sending the information in an email.
Another communication pitfall is sending a message to the wrong audience. This is what is sometimes called preaching to the choir. Office staff, sales people and truck drivers all have very different jobs. The office workers are not interested in sales quotas, the drivers have little use for information about overusing the copy machine, and the sales staff doesn’t need to know that load limits changed for Dixie Highway.
Matching messages up with appropriate listening audiences has always been a problem in meetings, but it is a bigger problem for email users. How often does an invitation to an event or a meeting go out on email, and someone who cannot attend sends their regrets to everyone on the list?
The problem is most unforgivable when someone wants to send an email to a half-dozen people, but instead of taking the time to type in the email addresses of the six, sends the message to everyone in the system.
The communication environment is more complicated than it was 25 years ago. Making smart communication choices will lead to more expedient and more informed decision-making.