Ah, communication. It’s the key to everything that happens at work and at home, and it leads to so much frustration when it’s mismatched to the need or simply ineffective.
How can you help align communication styles and strategies so that the right kind and amount of information is exchanged, in a form that keeps it useful to all parties? It’s the perennial question, forming the basis of both comedy and tragedy (not to mention crazy-making frustration) since ancient times. Communication failures usually break down into one of three categories:
- Not enough – leaving you worried about what’s going on in the absence of regular updates. Is everything okay, or is it going off a cliff without any warning that would allow for corrections?
- Too much – there are some things you don’t need to know.
- Lousy – some efforts at communication simply don’t work. Hilarity rarely ensues.
To help you avoid these situations or clear them up when they occur, here are four strategies from Elizabeth Grace Saunders. Writing in Open Forum, she shows us how to re-establish that efficient flow on joint projects where miscommunication could cost time and money, or lead to disappointed clients.
Whichever type of communication failure is causing the problem, you can work on fixing it using the same strategies. Try this:
- Start now. Don’t wait to see if things improve on their own. That’s not the way of the communication failure world. Take immediate steps to correct the flow of information or admit that the gulf is too great and abort the project if necessary. It really is that big of a deal.
- Go nitty-gritty about deliverables. Reframe the information for clarity. Define all terms in ways that aren’t even the slightest bit open to misinterpretation. Make sure everyone involved shares the same image of exactly what “done” means, what the deadlines are and how the results should be handed over.
- Align communication standards. Because everyone has a different comfort level, there are often mismatches between what feels like the right amount of contact. Set clear parameters and share preferences. If you need daily or weekly updates, specify that. If you want progress-based reports, make that clear. Let everyone know when and how much they should be reporting, and to whom.
- Pick your medium. Communication styles are very personal. Some people do best in face to face, while others can only work from drawings or written notes. Will an email suffice? Is someone (like me) not all there on the phone? Figure out the best ways to engage the brains you have on board. If no known medium is working to translate information from one person to the other, this may not be a partnership that can work. That’s not necessarily a personal failure – sometimes communication styles just don’t match up.
Give these steps a try the next time you’re working with a team, and see how smoothly things can go. If it’s still not smooth, don’t feel bad. These challenges aren’t isolated to you or your firm. Do you have other communication solutions to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.