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Communication - Work, Life, and Home

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Communication has become a dying art. I have read books, taken classes, and have met people with masters degrees in communication. I've never met a PhD in Communications, but I'm sure they exist. However, with Twitter, Facebook, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype, etc... we feel like we can communicate even better than we could a few years ago, or a decade ago. However, the messages are often lost, the information is misinterpreted, and it is similar to the telephone game we played as a children and the message often gets diluted or changed completely.

I have encountered this in work, in social situations, and even at home. Of course, I'm lucky because at home, my wife processes information faster than anyone I know and having a master's degree in elementary education, she knows how to slow it down and communicate with me. :-) However, there are emails at work that do not convey the message, instant messages that get overlooked, and even phone calls that never get answered. Ok, I think I have made my point. Communication is failing regardless of the technology.

So the logical question is how do you solve this? Well there are some simple things you can do to improve the communication. Here are some suggestions, that may or may not work for you, but have proven to be successful in my work environments.

Know your audience

Do you really need to an email to the entire company to say you are running late? Do you know who is on your email thread at all or is it just a bunch of blanket distribution lists? It is difficult to know your audience when you don't take the time to read your own TO: line! Now, knowing your audience is more than just knowing the names and titles of the people in the room or on the thread. It really helps if you actually know them. How do they learn? Are they visual, auditory, kinesthetic? Are they active listeners or passive? Do they have their laptops and cellphones out? Do they even need to be in the room for this meeting? All of these questions can help you deliver your message successfully.

Know your message

This seems like a common-sense idea, but if you can't explain the message to yourself, then you probably don't know what you are trying to say. There is a term in development called rubber duck debugging. I highly recommend it. Not just for debugging, but for presentations, and even emails at times. The process is simple, pretend there is a rubber duck (or get a real one, it makes it more fun) and tell them your message. You will often realize you are reiterating the same message over and over again, or you are missing a key part, or you are confused on what you are really trying to say. Jason Fried from 37signals always wanted to teach a class about writing, to teach people what is really important, you can read the post here. I think that class would be amazing to take and help people understand their own message/story.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Communication is an art that is not easy. You need to practice. Give presentations, write letters, write blogs, and consider the previous two points each time. The more you practice, like any skill, the more you will improve. What is so fascinating about communication is the variables involved. You can have the same message for 10 years, but each time you deliver it you will potentially have a new audience, a new insight, and an amazing experience of how to improve your own delivery method.

Many people see me in meetings and I rarely bring a laptop. I try to always have a notepad though. I love to take notes, I write what other people are saying, I consider my questions, I improve my response before I say anything, and I have learned to listen. Yes, I didn't say I always listen, I say I have learned to listen. I listen a lot. You can NEVER gather information if you are the only one talking. I do enjoy talking, presenting, and sharing. However, by taking notes, I can go back to my desk and type them into the computer. Why do that twice? Why not just take notes on your laptop? Repetition. I am listening once, writing twice. I have already repeated the information 3 times. Ideally, I will then summarize my notes in an email and send it to the presenter to make sure I understood what they were delivering. That opens the door for communication with them, shows them that I was interested, and I want to learn more from their ideas.

I have made more friends by simply listening to them, rather than share all my infinite wisdom (note: EXTREME SARCASM, hard to convey tone in writing at times). :-) So my suggestion to the world today is this: Listen, summarize, and make sure you understand what they are sharing with you. If someone is talking to you, realize they are sharing their time with you, appreciate that you are that important to them to communicate with you, whether it be a coworker, a boss, a friend, a spouse, or a family member. Their time is just as valuable as yours, and they decided to share it with you. Don't waste their time, and don't waste yours.

Thanks for stopping by!