10 Tips for Careful Communication

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Many mishaps and misunderstanding in the office stem from poor communication. This leads to a destruction of value as it diverts the efforts of the organization away from value added tasks to focus on containing and rectifying the situation.

Communication is all about the transfer of information, and ensuring people have the right information to make the best decisions possible. We are all brokers of information. Our responsibility is to make sure we make the best decisions with the information available, and be open to the fact that someone might have information that could affect our decision.

Here are a few tips for careful communications

  1. Avoid “Reply all”- Too often people hit the “Reply All” button. Most often it is not warranted. Before using the “Reply all” ask yourself “who really needs to be included?”, and limit your response to those individuals.
  2. Only include those that need to be included- Many times emails are sent including anyone and everyone, most of which have no desire or need to be included. Be respectful of people’s time and only include them on emails that require their attention. Some emails do need to be sent as information. A simple technique to help would be, only include those that are part of the decision making or required to “action” in the “to:”, and all others included for information be included in the “cc:”.
  3. Follow up a conversation with a confirmation email – Remembering that some discussions are best left out of emails, there is nothing wrong with sending a follow up email to clarify the take away points from a discussion. Something along the lines of “As per our conversation…… “, will provide an opportunity for others to clarify if there were any misinterpretations or understandings before things get started.
  4. Whenever Possible avoid email- It is always better to walk over to the cubicle next door or pick up the phone to discuss a situation rather than sending an email. Email is far overused method of communication that can easily spiral out of control. It is amazing how simply an email can be taken out of context whether it be; improper wording or capitalization. By talking directly, you have the ability to clarify or diffuse a situation before it snowballs.
  5. Make a clear distinction between fact and opinion- Many times opinion can be misrepresented as fact which can cause more confusion lead to issues being blown out of proportion. An opinion which is asserted or perceived to be presented as fact will cause the receiver to become defensive and less open to communication. Discussions take on a completely different tones when based on fact versus opinion. A fact based discussion can be perceived as confrontational and an “I am right you are wrong” tone. Conversely an opinion based discussion is subjective and based on an accumulation of facts which is more easily diffused as everyone has a right to their opinion. By clearly distinguishing fact and opinion or objective and subjective observations, the receiver is more likely to be open to discussion and less defensive resulting in better communication.
  6. When receiving communication always listen- Before dismissing or jumping to conclusions. Listen to the entire the message and don’t get caught up in the way the message is delivered. Focus on understanding the message. Before assuming negatively, politely ask for clarification and help understanding. Many times the message received is not what was intended to be sent.
  7. Avoid communicating when emotional– Emotions such: as anger, frustration, hurt, impair judgement and can result in sending a message that should not have been sent. When in this situation, draft your message and step away. Take some time to clear you head and regain composure. It is better to refrain than to regret. Always maintain composure when communicating, especially when sending an email. If sending an email on a sensitive topic which might stimulate or has stimulated an emotional response, always wait until you regain your composure and objectivity before hitting send. Once it is sent, it is out there with little chance of getting it back. Even though many email programs have a recall function, the reliability is very low.
  8. Remember some topics are best left out of email- Although email is a great tool for keeping track of conversations some content is best left out of email. As emails are easily misinterpreted, caution must be exercised. Email can be subject to litigation discovery. Many litigation battles have been won due to misconstrued emails. Before sending an email, ask yourself if this is something that should not be open to discovery.
  9. KISS Rule- Keep it Short and Simple. Always make sure that your communications are direct and to the point. Clarity is the best cure for miscommunication.
  10. Most importantly ALWAYS exhibit Humility. Always remember that communicating is an exchange of information. When dealing with other people, remember we are all information brokers and some have information that others don’t. By understanding that we or someone else might not have all the information to make an informed decision, we are better able to be open minded to the exchange of information. This will lead to better communications and better decision making.