Are you communicating or just making noise?

How many work e-mails a day do you get on average? 10? 50? Maybe 100 or more?

Sure, it depends on what you do for a living, but chances are, if you’re at a desk around 8 hours or so, you’re probably in the 50-100 range, but many of us are in the 100-500 range, and too many of us are in the 500+ range.

On the flip side, how many do you send? Honestly, if I can avoid it, I rarely send more than 20 e-mails a day, tops. That is not an accidental number. I try not to send too many emails or schedule too many meetings or schedule meetings that take longer than 30 minutes and the reason for that is I recognize that time is valuable and I don’t want to waste mine or anybody else’s.

How does this get back to communicating or just making noise? Pay attention!

1. Fit for purpose
My mother always used to tell me: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I’ll spare you my cheeky response (email me for it! ha!), but she had a point. Just because you have the option to do something, doesn’t necessary mean that you should go ahead and take advantage of that option.

Communication works the same way. E-mail is not right for everything. Phone calls are not right for everything. In-person desk drive-by chats aren’t right for everything. Nor instant message, skywriting, newspaper ads, anonymous chat apps, Snapchat, Instagram, social media, wikis, blogs, JIRAs, Sharepoint, et al. The point is this: choose the right tool/method for the best impact.

If you’re having a back-and-forth conversation that requires you maintain history: do it in an instant messenger app, or if it’s shared across the team, use something like a message board/collaboration thing like Jive. If you need to touch base with someone for more of a “soft/influencing” conversation or get their “off the record” take on something, call them on the phone or ask them to coffee so that you can do this in person and in a relaxed environment. If you need dates from someone and it needs to be a public thing: a) send it in an email with a reminder and b) make sure the proper audience (your public!) is included!

Match method to message – it will go a long way.

2. Format, frequency, type, and tone
I pick on e-mail because it’s the most abused method of communication and therefore provides the best examples (save Powerpoint) of all the ways you can do it wrong.

How many lines do you read in an e-mail? 3, maybe 5, 10 if you’re particularly detail-oriented? The reality is that most people, especially the ones getting upwards of 100+ emails a day, have neither the time nor attention span to read every single line. Therefore, how you structure that email – is it chunked, are things highlighted, bullet-points, directed at the individual person and not a general audience, size of font, clear actionability, etc. – goes a long way towards if you get the response you want or if it dissipates in the aether.

In addition, and this could just be me, I notice if someone closes with a signature or just initials or nothing. I notice if they take the time to care about who’s reading it or not. I notice if the “tone” is short and irritated, professional and neutral, or excited and energetic. The truth is that many of us notice these things, just subconsciously, and we will respond to it. Therefore, as you craft your message, whether it’s an email or a slide or you’re having an actual conversation and your message is shaped in your body language and your voice inflection, pay attention. Your recipient is.

3. Credibility
Every mistake counts against you.

I know that above sentence seems stark and unyielding, but it’s also true. Every mistake you say or write counts against you. If you have a great reputation for being trustworthy and honest and credible, how much it counts in the negative could be minimal. And while no one is perfect, so it’s to be expected that some get a ‘free pass’, in the initial instant, it counts against you.

So, think before you speak. Check your grammar. Check your facts. Don’t go crazy – do the best you can, but give a little bit of care towards both the big picture and the details. It matters because every mistake counts against you and your credibility, so it behooves the smart communicator to make sure they are giving as accurate a picture as they can every single time.

Stop making noise
I’d challenge you each to check yourselves – and don’t worry, I do this to myself, too! – and determine if

  • You’re making noise: ignoring the method’s applicability to the message, making use of the tools and approach at the wrong time, and not giving due attention to the details and the facts – or,
  • You’re communicating: caring about the recipient and making the best use of your shared time, tailoring the message as appropriate, and building up a reputation as trustworthy and reliable, and therefore a positive, valued member of your work community.

We all make noise at times – as human beings, we can’ t help it! But, let’s take that extra pause the next time we’re about to rattle off a quick reply, let’s consider if we’re going to get what we need by clicking the Send button or by picking up the handset, let’s make our best effort to communicate and stop making noise.


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