Since lately I’ve been interested in small tweaks we can all make to improve our communication skills (even if we already pride ourselves on them), I wanted to talk with my co-worker Loryn Cole about the topic.
Loryn is Copyblogger’s Data Analyst, and we share a similar style when it comes to communication.
Some might call it over-communicating.
We call it avoiding miscommunication. 🙂
Here’s my conversation with Loryn about successful communication in the workplace.
If you’d like to get more “You rock!” email replies from your co-workers, clients, or bosses, check it out.
Q: What elements make up the type of emails or project notes you like reading?
Loryn: I tend to like emails and project notes that have two seemingly contradictory qualities: They are clear and concise, but also comprehensive and wide-ranging.
Good project communications use as few words as possible to communicate what’s important, but they also make sure to cover all the important details.
The writing is brief, but the content is thorough.
I also appreciate it when people take the time to write out goals and objectives for the project. Too often, we assume that these are obvious to the people involved — and maybe that’s true some of the time, but it’s definitely not true all the time.
If you don’t write anything else about a project, write down your goals, strategy, or objectives, because, if you missed something else, these will help your teammates fill in the gaps and take ownership of the project.
Q: Can you describe the details you write to ensure that recipients will like reading your emails or project notes?
Loryn: I can’t say for sure whether or not other people like reading my emails … But, I can say that I do my best to make them easy to read. This means using lots of punctuation and formatting instead of full sentences, and always breaking up paragraphs when they get longer than two to three lines.
Writing emails always reminds me of that Mark Twain quote — “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
We forget that writing a concise and useful email or project description takes work.
You can’t expect your first messy draft of notes to make sense to the person who needs to execute on the project.
Slow down, take your time, and empathize with the person who will need to take action on your words.
Q: Do you have a process for reviewing your written communication before you send or post it?
Loryn: Not particularly, but I do try to limit the work that the next person will have to do by making sure to link important resources and documents.
For example, if I reference a document, I link to it, or at least tell them where to find it.
And, of course, I review what I’ve written for clarity, grammar, readability, and thoroughness.
Q: How do you manage all the different ways you communicate at work (email, Skype, Slack, Trello, etc.)?
Loryn: Each platform serves a different communication niche, which means that sometimes you have to double-up.
For example, when I finish a report on one of our completed projects, I add the report to the Trello card, then also send the report to the team on Slack with a short summary.
I do this because Slack is generally a better medium for getting faster interactions — ideally, I want people to read the report (or at least the summary) and ask me questions about it. I’ve found this rarely happens on project management tools like Trello.
But the report also needs to be posted on Trello because it’s an important part of our project documentation. In the future, if someone goes back to see what we did on the project, I want them to have the report on how our efforts performed.
So, to manage your communication platforms, you have to be aware of how each platform is used and what kind of information your teammates expect to find in each one.
Even if this means you occasionally share duplicate information across platforms, it’s better to do that than not have the information where it’s needed.
Q: Why is miscommunication at work so frustrating?
Loryn: Communication is the lifeblood of the modern workplace — and this is even more true for remote companies like ours.
Without communication (which includes documentation), remote work becomes a circular game of “Where is that file?” and “Does anyone know how to do this?” and “When are we launching that new ebook again?”
We tend to think of miscommunication at work as a case of misunderstanding, where two parties think differently about a task and end up creating completely disparate end goals.
And that might happen sometimes. But more often, what I’ve seen is that chronic miscommunication (and under-communication) often takes the form of confusion and disorganization. And over time, that disorganization will undermine your coworkers’ sense of agency.
At first, people will ask for things they can’t find or figure out on their own. But over time, it becomes exhausting to continually ask where things are or how to do basic tasks, especially as things change, and it leaves teams feeling disjointed and alienated.
With bad communication, your company functions like friends trying to make dinner in a rented lakehouse. In the end, one or two people end up doing everything, while the rest start a game of Cards Against Humanity.
For your employees to do their best work, your office should function more like a professional kitchen, where everyone knows what their role is, and where to find everything they need.
Q: At what point, if any, does over-communicating become a burden for everyone involved?
Loryn: Over-communicating can become a burden when teammates aren’t on the same page about how to use their communication tools.
For example, if one teammate only ever communicates important information in Slack and uses “@channel” in every message, it quickly gets annoying and isn’t useful, and then someone else has to translate it to the project management tool.
Teams need to have clear guidelines about how to use their tools and what information belongs where.
But over-communication about the wrong kind of information can become a hassle, too.
Too much communication about facts (“When are we launching this?” “What landing page are we using?”) is confusing and frustrating for everyone. This kind of over-communication should be solved with better processes and documentation, rather than back-and-forth questions.
Q: How is better communication related to increased productivity?
Loryn: The easy answer to this question is that good processes and documentation save time — if everyone knows where things are, people can get their jobs done faster, like the professional kitchen analogy I mentioned earlier.
But more importantly, when everyone knows where to find the information they need and how to communicate, teammates feel more ownership over their work, and the conversation moves from “Where do I find stuff?” to “How can we do better?”
Productivity isn’t just about getting stuff done; it’s about getting the right things done and making progress on your goals.
If your company has poor communication, you and your teammates will likely feel overwhelmed and busy. With better communication, you might actually feel less busy, and you will be able to focus on projects, initiatives, and questions that make your work and your company better.
Q: Is there a trick to avoid excessive back-and-forth messages?
Loryn: In my experience, the kinds of back-and-forth messages that are most irritating and time-wasting are either about facts (“Where do I find this?”) or approvals (“Is it okay if I do this?”).
To cut down on these, you need to do two things:
- Clearly document important information and make sure everyone knows where to find it.
- Empower your teammates to take ownership over their responsibilities within projects.
An employee who feels insecure about their role in the company will seek approval from a “higher-up” for every small task, which is a waste of time for both parties.
Creating a culture of good communication can help, as I mentioned already. But you also have to make sure employees know that you trust them to do their jobs.
Q: What’s one thing people can do, starting today, to communicate more effectively with their co-workers, clients, or bosses?
Loryn: The next time you write an email or project scope, put yourself in your reader’s position.
- What do they need to know to take action?
- What can you do to make the information as clear and easy to read as possible?
- What assumptions are you making that should be explicitly stated?
By doing this, you’ll not only write better emails, proposals, documentation, or requests, you’ll also build better and stronger relationships with the people you work with.
Over to you …
What are your top tips for communicating more effectively with your co-workers, clients, or bosses?
Share in the comments below.