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A Plea for Empathetic Communication

It’s impossible to over-communicate

Sounds a bit strong, but if you think through your real-world experiences, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. No matter how hard you try, your message will be missed by someone …

Problem: It’s all their fault!

Rely on Web 2.0, and …

  • … they won’t subscribe to the RSS feed; they don’t understand the concept, and have no other information sources that supply feeds
  • … they won’t sign up for the email notifications; that feature is hidden, no one told them about it
  • … they won’t read / browse / search the wiki; there are too many unfinished pages in there, and they don’t consider it reliable
  • … they can’t find it using intranet search – they don’t know where this feature is located. And even if they did, the results aren’t as targeted and “right-on” as Google

So, you try to rely on “first generation” electronic media, but …

  • … they didn’t read the email, it got lost in their inbox with 100 other new messages today
  • … they didn’t see, therefore, didn’t read the attachment
  • … they did not check their voice mail

Even the “old fashioned way” doesn’t always work …

  • You are having a face to face conversation, but it’s not sinking in because they are checking their Blackberry and thinking about the currently unfolding interruption …

Solution: Don’t jump on the latest communication bandwagon and expect a Silver Bullet – you need to balance flexibility and focus. Different media work for different people, so work to communicate your message using a variety of methods. Of course, if you try to supply all media for all tastes, there won’t be enough time to get any real work done. Just know that there is no one best way to get information out to all who need to hear your message – and adjust accordingly.

Problem: It’s all your fault!

If you can get them to the electronic content, you still have to create content that actually communicates the correct information. Even if they are capable of subscribing to RSS feeds, or opening a document attachment – if the content does not convey with clarity, they won’t catch your drift. Worse yet – if the first one or two samples don’t convey anything, they will stop listening to everything.

Solution #1: Practice practice practice – The only way to get better at anything is to keep iterating.

Observation: It’s no one’s fault – it just is

Think about it – don’t you receive messages in your inbox that are not clear / difficult to read, or hear about things after the fact or through the grapevine? And don’t you glance at your Blackberry during meetings? When you set your phone to vibrate, you avoid distracting others (good!) but you are invariably distracting yourself (who just called ….?)
Fact is, we are all swimming in a sea of information, bombarded with messages from all sides – and we’re bombarding others as well. A little humility and a lot of empathy go a long way …

  • Get feedback – if your medium or your content are not effective, find out why. Ask your intended audience what works best for them. Majority rules, so if you have a few email holdouts that don’t know how to set up an RSS reader, do it for them. Better yet, do it with them – and show them what else they can subscribe to!
  • Understand what the current corporate / organizational / local culture is, and play to that. You don’t have to accept the status quo – but don’t tilt at windmills just because wiki is a cool sounding word that would look good on your resume. Introduce change judiciously, and don’t let it override the goal at hand – you need to get the status of this project updated!
  • Never underestimate the power of face time. When you craft a beautiful, concise, complete summary of the upcoming meeting, and someone still insists on calling you up and talking about it – don’t look on this with disdain – it’s an opportunity! What was it about the email / document that was incomplete? Was I not clear? Also, since most recipients of project updates are getting them for a reason (stakeholders!!), it’s a great opportunity to make sure they get the big picture, understand the original objectives, and are still in support of the initiative.
  • Projects end, but relationships go on. It’s always good practice to improve your communications and connections with the various technology and business process teams, in and out of the company. These is always a “next time”, and next time could be that much easier if you are consistently building your foundation of clarity, openness, completeness.

Effective communication is very difficult, and requires constant work. Realize this, model your actions accordingly, and your impact and influence will grow.

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