Here are the ten communication “errors” that I see most often. Do any feel depressingly familiar?
- Back-to-back meetings. When there are no breaks in between meetings, when exactly are people supposed to prepare or follow-up? I guess there are only two answers: at home or never.
- Pointless communications. You know all those communications — the reports, meetings, conference calls, emails — that achieve nothing? The ones that nobody would mind if they stopped?
- Too irrelevant. Sometimes you do need to communicate. But messages often contain content you just don’t need — pointless agenda items, unnecessary chapters, too many background slides and so on.
- Too boring. Ever been on a conference call that was tedious? A meeting that dragged on? Presentations where the presenter read their wordy slides to you?
- Too long. Preparation isn’t finished when your communication is as thorough and long as possible. It’s finished when it’s as short as possible.
- Too selfish. You know the type of thing… “Here’s my content, with all the detail I care about. My time is so important that I haven’t had time to remove the slides you don’t need. And now I need you to do X. And I mean right now”.
- Wrong channels. People often email when they should chat. They hold big meetings to discuss topics that should have been done one-to-one.
- Wrong person. When Person A wants to impact Person B, they should speak to them directly. Asking Person C to act as a middle-man is rarely as effective. It dilutes A’s passion and clarity; plus, B’s questions are rarely answered as well/at all.
- Poor cascades. One exception to the previous point: middle-men can be good for cascading info from on high. But only when the middle-man adds something to the message — their own experiences, personalising it for his team. If he adds nothing, he serves minimal purpose in the chain. In fact, he can make things worse if he does something as dismissive as: “FYI — read this”.
- Onerous pre-reads. Giving people too much to read for a meeting is… well, too much. The pre-reads are supposed to enable decisions, not be a rant about everything.
Do these things happen in your business? If so, the solutions are simple:
Back-to-back meetings — stop having them, finish early.
Pointless communication — stop creating yours. Stop reading others.
Too irrelevant — when preparing, ask people what content they want you to include.
Too boring — always ask yourself: “what can I do to make this more interesting?” and include it (you’d be amazed how rarely people do this).
Too long — put detail in the Appendix and irrelevancies in the bin.
Too selfish — look at your communication through the recipient’s eyes. If you don’t think they’ll like it, they won’t.
Wrong channels — consider the best channel for this communication; don’t just do “what we normally do”.
Wrong person — go to Person B, not through Person C (and, whenever possible, don’t let other people use you as a middle-man).
Poor cascades — don’t include/be a middle-man unless the middle-man adds value.
Onerous pre-reads — strip them right back. Aim for one page; two as a max. Remember: they’re not just reading yours.
Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.