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Communication and Personalities

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Communication has become such an overused word in corporate culture. I often hear:

We need to improve our communication!

However, no one actually listens to that statement, ironic.  There is usually no formal plan or approach on how to improve our communication.  There are several methods that people employ as an attempt to "improve communication", with no real thought on what the actual problem is.

Here are some of the approaches I have seen attempted:

  1. We need everyone in the room to make sure we have consensus
  2. We need you to send out an email to the team about the direction we are going
  3. We need to get the key stakeholders together to decide and then (option 1 or 2)
  4. We need everyone in the office so we can have some in-depth face-to-face discussions on a regular basis
  5. We need to fly all remote employees here for a week so we can make sure we are all on the same page

Now, I am not saying that any of the approaches are bad, I will, I just haven't said that yet. :-)  (Quick tangent: I love when people have disclaimers for any opinion they have to make sure they don't offend anyone, yes, I know I do that).  All of those approaches increase communication with people.  The first one assumes we need consensus.  Do we?  or can this simply be a mandate/instruction for others?  The second one is often overlooked because our email is already too full.  Option 3 Who are the key stakeholders, or more importantly, who thinks they are one of the key stakeholders, and why do they think that?  Option 4, do we really need everyone here to have in-depth face to face, or do we want people to not be distracted while they are working with all these one-off communications?  Option 5, that is just a waste of money with the technology we have today (Skype, GotoMeeting, Google Hangouts, etc...) and honestly, some of those remote employees chose to be remote for a reason.   Here is the point of this entire post:

Increased communication is not improved communication

We have access to so much information that it is almost painful for our brain to sort it out.  We have Twitter, Facebook, television, YouTube, radio, billboards, emails, phone calls, text messages, blogs (thank you for reading this one. :-) ), and many more sources of information.  That is not improved communication, that is simply a whole lot of it.

The goal of any message in business, whether it be an email, phone call, or face to face, is to either inform, retrieve additional information, or manipulate.  Yes, it is that simple.

Now, given that premise, let's begin the second half of this post.  Personalities.  We have all heard of Meyers-Briggs, DISC Profiles, Rorschach, Keirsey Temperament, etc... they each provide some type of insight into the individual.  I believe that they are quite valuable when used appropriately.  However, what happens is people feel boxed in to that label.

So tying those to points together (communication and personality, for those who are not following), some people are very succinct and direct and others enjoy narratives.  Now, I am a little bit of a combination because I address audiences differently.  If I know I am going to talk to someone who enjoys narratives, I will give them a story.  If I am talking with someone who only wants facts, I will come prepared with specific information.  Some people prefer emails over face to face communications, why?  because they process information slower and can take their time in reply or they like evidence of every communication to bring it back up when things change.  Taking all of that into account, to improve (not increase) communication, you need to know your audience.  However, ideally time is something you can never store up, get back, or reuse.  Jason Fried, of 37Signals, wrote an article about a course he would like to teach, you can read the article here.  He explains how he would like people to focus on editing and not just content:

Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.

I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.

Now, imagine that if you were in a meeting and everyone had a voice, but they were only allowed to give "one perfectly distilled sentence".  The first argument I hear about that often is that there is more information that is needed than one sentence.  Of course, we can't all be Faulkner with 1000+ word sentence.  :-)  However, if you set that constraint, people will think more often before processing verbally and having others "piggy-back" on that topic.  I think if we all were more conscious of our words and not just spew words together, we will improve communication.  It makes us think less of ourselves and more of our audience, of their time, their processing technique, and what they truly need to know.

So think about improving communication this week, not increasing it.  How would you improve communication with your team, your manager, your company?   Flooding an inbox is never the right answer and leaving everyone out of a decision is not the right answer either.

Thanks for stopping by.