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June 12, 2015

Tame the Communication Beast!

Sarah Pavey


"Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized."
- Marilyn vos Savant.

When it comes to communicating at work, everyone has their own preferences, habits and methods, and "pet hates." However, without a concerted effort to tame this communication free-for-all, it can be chaos!

I've worked with some people in the past who sent a huge number of emails every day… just to check on progress. Others, though, avoided their inbox at all costs and would only communicate by phone. One person preferred to send documents by mail, and another couldn't understand why people just didn't communicate in person!

Individually, these people were talented and skilled experts in their fields… but as soon as they needed to work with others, things started to go wrong. The people who disliked using email would miss important messages and deadlines, those who preferred to talk in person drowned in a sea of notes and reminders, and the ones who liked to mail documents took forever to get anything done!

Personally, I'm a big fan of email: it's quick and easy, and using it means I've got an instant record that I can refer back to. I've also got a lot of time for Skype®: I can complete some tasks faster and more effectively over a quick call or IM than I can by using email.

At Mind Tools, many of our teams work in the office for part of the week, then remotely for the rest. Because of this, we have to get our communication right. We need to make sure we know what's going on, how projects are progressing, and when deadlines are approaching. We'd rather streamline our communication and spend time on high-value tasks, than waste hours in unnecessary meetings or taming our overflowing inboxes!

So, we've developed our own set of communication "rules" that help people manage communication, know how to use different channels effectively, and take into account each team's preferences.

Here are a few of the editorial team's communication guidelines:

  • Use email unless another channel is more appropriate.
  • Only use IM when your question is urgent or you need a quick response.
  • Reduce unnecessary emails by avoiding short "thank yous" and "Reply All" messages.
  • Schedule face-to-face meetings for "office days," and aim to keep them under 30 minutes.
  • Schedule meetings over Skype when people are working remotely, rather than waiting until attendees are in the office.
  • Ensure social media posts are brand-appropriate and free from mistakes.

As you can see, our focus is on keeping things moving and reducing the number of messages that people send and receive. As a result, we've got more time for editing and developing Mind Tools' content.

In our latest article, we look at how to develop a Communications Charter. This formal document outlines your team's preferred communication methods, and it improves the focus and efficiency of both group and individual communication. Find out how using one could benefit your team!

What communication "rules" do you have in your team or organization? How have these improved communication and efficiency? What guidelines would you like to see in place? Let us know by commenting below!

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