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.

If Everything’s Under Control, You’re Going Too Slow

Mario Andretti, retired world champion racing driver, said: “If everything’s under control, you’re going too slow.” In other words, there has to be flexibility in work in order to achieve maximum productivity. When there is little or no flexibility in work, there is a good chance that the work is being micromanaged. In the workplace, this quashes much more than productivity.

Micromanaging is the wrong way to work. It slows down everything and everyone. Checking, re-checking, and checking again is a sign that you have little confidence in either the work systems or processes or both. And if you are a leader with micromanagement tendencies, that’s much worse. Micromanaging leaders (typically Type A personalities) have the best intentions for the organization, but what they’re actually doing is tearing down the organization, one person at a time.

Micromanaging leaders create organizations with the following characteristics:

  • Weak, dysfunctional teams
  • Staff that are unable to make decisions
  • Staff that spend countless hours second guessing what is required
  • Underutilized staff skills
  • Fearful and poorly motivated staff
  • Lack of creativity and innovation
  • Confusion due to unclear vision, plan or strategy
  • Disempowered staff
  • Lack of trust between leaders and staff; and staff and staff
  • High staff turnover
  • Reduced productivity, efficiency and effectiveness

Micromanagement tends to show up when there is pressure and then with good intentions, the micromanager tries to do everybody else’s job to “help” them meet deadlines. Instead of improving productivity, it is decreased, and dissatisfied workers are created. High turnover of staff should not be a surprise in these situations. According to the College of Business and Administration at Southern Illinois University, the negative impacts of micromanagement are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons employees resign.

How can the micromanaging leader move away from the micro to the macro? Communication is the key. Leaders who don’t understand what their staff are doing and staff that don’t understand what the organization requires of them create an environment prone to micromanagement. Fear drives micromanagement, but lack of, or inadequate communication sets up the perfect conditions for micromanagement to thrive.

At the end of the day, both leaders and staff want the same thing–success: Success not only for themselves, but also for their organization. If you’re a micromanager, here are six things you can do to get back on the macro track to productivity:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment to determine your working style. Be honest about your style. Micromanagement does not have to be a way of life.
  2. Delegate work if you are in a position to do so; and trust your staff with the work. If you are not a leader, but are overworked, talk to your boss and discuss how to achieve better workload balance.
  3. Develop a vision for your department or organization. What should your department look like one, two, or five years from now? How will micromanagement impact this vision?
  4. Develop policies and procedures for your organization. Policies help identify standards and procedures help all staff meet the standards without the need to micromanage.
  5. Develop, maintain, and improve communication between all lines of management and staff. If no one communicates, how do you know where the problems are or what issues are most urgent?
  6. Expect and allow staff to make mistakes. Mistakes provide excellent learning opportunities.

In addition, learn to listen. Listening is an important element of communication. Don’t just pay lip service to communication. The more serious you are about communication, the less you will engage in micromanagement and the more your staff will engage with you and with their work.