Job Management : what and when to communicate

It takes a mix of many traits to make a good communicator but probably the most important is the desire to communicate in the first place. In business you’ll need a broad awareness of what’s going on, coupled with a good sense of what people really need to know – and what they don’t. Motivation and good judgement must combine.
It takes plenty of time and effort to be a good communicator. If someone is too busy to scroll a page, there’s no point in sending them long, comprehensive emails with the key information buried 1,000 words in. If it’s important that the recipient reads everything you’ve written in order to understand the framework for a decision, then tell them that in the first line, with a précis of what the decision is about (preferably in the heading). Better still, phone them. Any idea how many emails your client gets every day? Try asking them.

“Communication is a time consuming business.”

Unquestionably, a well informed client is better for business than an uninformed client. Within reason. There’s no point in ringing them up at home late at night when your designer’s computer has crashed and he hasn’t kept a recent backup of the project. A client really wants to hear that everything is going smoothly. So even if they haven’t requested it, make it routine to send regular updates (weekly is usually fine) of project status and milestones reached. This builds confidence and a basis for calm discussion if something does go wrong.

Problems (and let’s face it, problems are not noted for their scarcity) only become insurmountable when communication breaks down. That’s how wars are started. And communication is likely to break down when people stop making the effort or have waited far too long before letting people know there is a problem.

Never forget that most changes can be accommodated with enough discussion, re-negotiation and, most importantly, time. Managers are used to changes. They may not like them, but they should be skilled at adapting and reconfiguring to navigate unexpected issues. So don’t let fear of a client’s reaction prevent you from communicating with them – you’ll have a lot more to fear if you don’t.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Finally, make sure that what you are trying to communicate has really been understood. All too often people misread or misinterpret messages, whether written or verbal. If you’re sending an email, where tone-of-voice is completely lost, read it back to yourself and look for ambiguities. Could the recipient colour it with their own set of values? If your ‘What do you mean by that?’ request for clarification is interpreted as an aggressive rebuke, your relationship just got a whole lot tenser.

“You talkin’ to me?”

~ Travis Bickle

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