De-Clutter Your Communications

Have you ever had one of those days where no one seems to understand a thing you are saying? Do you find yourself wondering, “What’s wrong with everyone today?” If so, that might be the wrong question. Instead of wondering what has others off track, do a basic communication self-check and see if you’ve let your messages get cluttered with poor communication habits. It’s easy to do, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. In fact, cluttered communication is a genuine problem with a serious impact. In this three-part series we will take a look at a few common “communication clutter bugs” and talk about how to spring clean for fresh and effective results.

Rambling. This is a particularly pesky communication habit because it is both unproductive and highly irritating to others. Rambling generally occurs for one of three reasons:

  • We forgot where we were going with the conversation, so we just talk … aimlessly.
  • We have a head full of minute detail about a topic that is fascinating to us, so we feel it must be fascinating to others as well.
  • We are exhausted.

What’s hidden from us as we are rambling on and on—yet strikingly clear to our audience—is that we have lost self-awareness (or we are rude, so let’s hope for the first).

There are two simple steps to stop rambling in its tracks: First, don’t get lost in your own head. Remaining engaged in the dialogue requires paying attention to your audience and noticing if they glaze over, yawn, or nod off. Second, learn to interrupt yourself. “Excuse me, I realize I am rambling,” works fine. So does, “I am spending too much time here; let’s talk about …”. Or even, “We have gotten off track; let’s refocus.” Those words will delight your struggling listener who will immediately and happily re-engage with you on the matter at hand. If you find yourself rambling often, you may have an informing language style, and gaining some insight and clarity about directing and informing language patterns could be very helpful for you.

Clarity. Life has sped up (or so it seems), and the speed of our thoughts has moved right along with it. Recently I was observing my three-year-old’s evolving language skills, and it seemed that he had started stuttering. He was an early talker and has a great vocabulary for his age, so I was a little alarmed at first. Then I realized what was happening: His brain was moving faster than his mouth. He had all of these thoughts that he couldn’t quite get out so he would sputter, skip some others, and repeat himself until—in his mind—he had said all he needed to say.

I have to laugh as I see this happen all day long at work—only it isn’t so cute in this context. In the rush of trying to get it all done, too many of us don’t think through our messages. We just blurt it all out and sometimes it sounds like my three-year-old—or worse, my bossy four-year-old. When we take a few extra seconds to think about what we want to say, then we compose and execute more succinct, thoughtful, and actionable messages. These extra seconds not only eliminate confusion, but they have the added bonus of ensuring we don’t interrupt others and create a poor impression.

In next week’s post, learn the power of “no” when I share some tips for de-cluttering your to-do list with powerful and positive declines.

Surviving Virtual Communications

Nearly all of us communicate at the speed of email now, but few have learned how to handle virtual communications efficiently. Instead, hundreds of emails, voicemails and text messages are burying us in an information avalanche. But don’t blame the tools. It’s important to understand that the sharing of information is not communicating. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Chances are pretty good that you’re ignoring some of the smart habits and strategies that help virtual communication achieve the effectiveness and efficiency we all hoped for when we first logged on. Here are some tips to improve your results with virtual communications.

Virtual Comm Blog

Excel at Email

Learning how to select the appropriate communication tool for the job can make a big difference. Email, for example, is a great way to share details and communicate with a wide audience, but it’s less effective for detailed discovery, conversations and interpersonal issues—particularly those you’d rather not see shared or forwarded. When you do use email, keep it short. State any requested actions in the subject line and use titles and bullets to keep details organized.

Phone it in                                  

The time-tested telephone still reigns when it comes to holding informal conversations, delivering time-sensitive information and handling sensitive or difficult topics that can’t be tackled face-to-face. But don’t use the phone simply to avoid the awkwardness of face-to-face communication. It’s also not the best choice for delivering detailed instructions. When you do pick up the phone, greet people warmly, be prepared with bullet points for the call and keep related documentation handy. Don’t take up more time than you need, and don’t schedule unnecessary phone calls—both unwelcome time-wasters.

 Text Time

Savvy texters know it can be an incredibly effective way to communicate location data, meeting status notifications and urgent information in mere seconds. It falls short when users turn to text messages for non-urgent information and requests that require any amount of discussion or details. Speed is no excuse to be unprofessional. Avoid cutesy shorthand, and be sure to state your name when you’re texting someone for the first time or whom you don’t know well.

 Skype and FaceTime

Video technology plays an excellent second fiddle for face-to-face communication in a variety of situations. Use Skype for longer meetings and conversations that can benefit from stronger attention to relationships. Always test the equipment and connections about 10 minutes before start time, and reschedule when video, sound quality or speed is poor. Be sure that someone on both ends of the meeting knows how to use the technology. And if more than 20% of the team can’t participate in the video, opt for a conference call instead. 

 The better you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the virtual media you use, the more effective and efficient you can learn to be at using them. You’ll be more productive and dig yourself out of that email avalanche before you know it.