Communicating for Results

Here’s a true story. It happened via e-mail (e-mail contents modified to protect the innocent).

Consultant: Hello, Simon, As you may be aware, I am the consultant working on developing your company’s Information Security Policy. I was given your name by John Smith who said that you would be able to answer my questions in relation to your company’s strategy as it pertains to information security. I am available almost anytime next week except not between 9 and noon on Monday and not on Wednesday. I need one hour of your time, please. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Client: Sure I can meet with you, but what is this about? I don’t know if I would be the best person to talk to about this. Would you be able to meet with someone else?

Consultant: If you feel that I should be speaking with someone else, then I can certainly do that. Who should I contact?

Client: It turns out that you do need to talk to me. I thought this was about some other topic.

Consultant: When would you be able to meet with me, please? As I mentioned, my schedule is fairly flexible for next week except I am not available between 9 and noon on Monday and not on Wednesday.

Client: How about at 10:00am on Monday?

Consultant: Unfortunately, as I indicated in my original email, I am not available on Monday at the time specified. Would the afternoon work for you? Say at 1:00pm?

Client: Oh, okay. I missed that. Sure Monday at 1:00pm works for me.

Consultant: Thank you. I’ll send a meeting invite, shortly, so that we’ve both got a placeholder in our calendars. See you on Monday.

Communication such as the above happens all too frequently. It causes not only delay in action, but frustration and even anger at the target. And in the above case, it took four e-mail transactions to have the original question answered and because the consultant and client have not yet met, when they finally do meet, the consultant may already have formed a preconceived image of a client who is very inefficient. This is not a good way to start a meeting.

So what do your communications say about you?

Here are nine ways to ensure you engage in effective communication and maintain a professional image at all times.

  1. Before responding to a message, first read or listen (as the case may be) to the full message. Don’t just skim over key words and assume you understand the full meaning of the message (see the above example for what happens when the full message is not read initially). You will save time and frustration not only for yourself, but also for the originator of the message.
  2. Communicate on time and within a reasonable time. Emails and voice messages must be answered within 24 hours (or less). No exceptions. Claims of being too busy just don’t cut it. If you’re too busy to respond to business messages within 24 hours, then you’re either in the wrong job or are performing your job very inefficiently. Or both.
  3. When texting, be sure to keep texts brief and to the point, but also be courteous and respond promptly. Text messages are meant for immediacy and expediency. They should be treated that way.
  4. When using blog posts or team wikis to communicate instead of other methods such as e-mail, in person meetings, or video conferencing, make sure that those with whom you are communicating are aware that you are using these modalities, so they don’t contact you via other methods and wait for a response.
  5. When leaving a message, whether it’s via e-mail, voice, text, etc., always leave your full contact information where the person can reach you. This means leaving your name and telephone number at a minimum. E-mail messages should contain a full signature block that includes your title, organization name, organization address and telephone number, and organization website.
  6. If you’re listening to someone in person, be an active listener. This means really listening to the speaker by minimizing internal and external distractions, facing the speaker, and asking questions to clarify for meaning (this is especially important if you are being asked to do something). Research shows that we can hear four times faster than we can talk, so we have an ability to sort ideas and understand for full meaning before responding.
  7. Pay attention to body language. Nonverbal cues can give you more information about the delivered message. And when you watch for nonverbal cues, remember that others are also watching you. What is your body language saying about you or your message?
  8. Practice emotional awareness while communicating. The ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately during communication is the basis for effective communication.
  9. Still using carrier pigeons to deliver your messages? It’s time to retire.