The Black Holes of Communication

What is your top timewaster? Meetings? Communication? Micromanagers? You may be surprised to know that activities relating to communication typically cost people about two hours of wasted time every day. If you work an average eight-hour day, that’s 25% of your day gone to waste because of poor or mismanaged communication.

The causes of communication problems can be many, but it comes down to this – your ability to communicate. If you are unable to say “no,” “stop,” or ask the all-important “why” question, you are wasting time every day. Let me give you an example relating to meetings.

Most people go to meetings because they’re “supposed to” go to them. Why? To show that they’re a good employee? Nonsense! You can respectfully decline to attend meetings when the meeting adds no value to your work or you are unable to contribute value to the topic. If either of these apply, then decline the invitation with your reasons for doing so.

Email is another example. How often do you deal with communication from others when someone else should be dealing with it? Sometimes, we feel it’s the “polite” thing to do to take care of a request because it came to us, but that’s the wrong approach. Advise the sender that you aren’t able to assist them and in that same response to them, copy the person who can. There. You’ve just done double duty in one note.

And what about communicating to others? How are your communication skills? Do you say what you mean or do you skirt the issue? Be direct with your messaging. This saves time not only for you, but also for the recipient.

I recently blogged about micromanaging. This is an area where open and honest communication can really help eliminate timewasting. Sometimes the micromanager doesn’t even know that they’re micromanaging, let alone that they’re contributing to huge timewasting. If you’re under the thumb of a micromanager, call a time out and invite your micromanager to coffee. Point out how his/her micromanaging is impacting your work. You’ll both be better off because of the conversation.

To improve your productivity and gain time in your day, eliminate the black holes of communication by asking more questions (“why” is a powerful antidote), saying “no” more often (e.g., meetings), and speaking up about things that don’t feel right. Contrary to the popular song “Silence is Golden,” silence is not golden if it contributes to wasted time and energy.

Meetings – bane or blessing?

If you’re like most executives, meetings consume a large part of your day. But if you’re a smart executive, you know whether attending or chairing a meeting is worthwhile well before the meeting takes place.

In my experience, many people attend meetings to gather information, provide project status updates, or invigorate a team that appears to be losing steam. These are all the wrong reasons for meeting.

If you need information or need to provide information such as a project status update, use email. This is especially the case if the information serves a one-way purpose. Why waste the time of several people if your goal can be achieved in a more efficient manner?

And invigorating a team? You don’t need a group meeting for that. Meet individually with each team member to address their concerns in private. This is a surefire way to get the motivation back–when the member sees that you are taking a personal interest  in their concerns rather than grouping all interests in a boardroom.

But if you really do need a meeting, here are key considerations to ensure your meeting is efficient and effective:

  1. Prepare an agenda. The agenda must include the meeting date, start time and duration, location, purpose, and topic items allocated to meeting discussion leaders along with an objective for each topic. Be sure your agenda conveys a sense of urgency, so that participants will want to participate  and not just show up (or worse: show up late). For example, a meeting purpose of “budget challenges this year” is much more interesting than “budget status.”
  2. Invite the right people. All those at the meeting must either have something to contribute to the topic or have authority over decisions regarding the topic. If they are neither, they do not need to be at the meeting, but you can certainly keep them in the loop via email.
  3. Assign meeting attendees a task(s) for the meeting. For instance, someone can be a timekeeper for the meeting to ensure the meeting topics stay within allotted time, someone else can take minutes, another person can manage the whiteboard to capture ideas, and another person can be responsible for ensuring all people are heard. The more involved the attendees, the better the chances of a successful outcome. Tip: if you have extensive flipchart or whiteboard notes or diagrams, take a picture of them and them convert them to an Adobe file. This will make the work searchable and no one needs to spend hours after the meeting to re-create the original work.
  4. Whether you are facilitating or participating, hone in on non-verbal cues of  attendees. Understanding the non-verbal cures will help you to engage all  attendees in the meeting. According to Alton Barbour, only seven percent of communication is what we say and the rest is how we say it. Pitch, volume, and rhythm carry 38 percent of a message, while body language, facial expressions, and eye movement account for 55 percent.
  5. Close the meeting with a plan of action. And remember to follow-up the meeting with minutes in a timely manner.

Incorporating the above considerations into any meeting you convene or attend, will provide you an opportunity to be part of efficient meetings that provide real value to participants. And since meetings are products of good leadership, conducting an efficient and productive meeting will solidify your own good leadership skills.