Our communication has to evolve. For many of us, we have too many digital messages because our behavior hasn’t evolved to match the medium. (Original Tweet)
Problems with Digital Communication
We treat digital communication the same as if someone were standing in front of us waiting to respond. We default to responding quickly instead of thoughtfully. We ask questions that leave our team or clients confused because they haven’t been fully thought out.
A lot of times it is because we use digital communication as a stream of conscious to share an idea, thought, or question. Because of this, we drag out conversations with multiple messages instead of giving the recipient the information they need to respond or take action when they open it.
What makes this worse is we almost always have our phones with us. We typically don’t walk away from our phones like we do our computers. This means we are more inclined to send messages after hours. This “always-on” mode contributes to stress and burn out for ourselves and our teams. I’m guilty of this.
Why Does This Happen?
My theory is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when our thoughts don’t match our behavior. The dissonance in digital communication starts because we use a mobile device (telephone) that 10 years ago was primarily used for verbal conversations. Phones allowed us to immediately connect with someone else when they picked up our call.
Our phones now offer a multitude of communication methods including SMS, DM, Slack, etc. We rarely call someone anymore even though we’re still using a phone. The dissonance occurs because we’re still using our phone and expecting an immediate connection via SMS, DM, Slack, etc. Except our team, colleagues, friends, and family, are not sitting on the other end waiting to respond. Technology has evolved and we’re still mentally playing catch up.
How to Improve
What would happen if you changed how you viewed digital communication? What if you looked at SMS, DM, Slack, etc. as pieces of mail? With mail, we don’t know when it will be opened and whether we will receive a response.
Because time is important to us we begin to be more thoughtful and thorough in our communication. Making it easier for the other person to respond, take action, and/or include what we need.
The onus is on us to make sure our communication is
- Clear: Review your message. Does it make sense or do you need to reword something? Can a 10-year old understand what you’re asking?
- Well thought out: Is your message a stream of consciousness? Or are you asking for a specific response?
- Properly formatted: Use paragraphs (2-3 sentences). Avoid run-on sentences. Use bullet points. If they were to skim your message, what do you want to make sure they don’t miss? Highlight it or make it bold.
- Include all pertinent information: Include links or attachments as necessary. If you need them to make a choice, present them with options. For example, “I’m available Mon 5pm or Wed 3pm, which one is best for you?” is a lot easier to respond to than “When are you available to meet?”
- Respectful of boundaries: Does sending messages after hours signal that others should be available and working too? Does responding to messages after hours encourage the “always-on” behavior? Are you allowing your team to get the rest they need in order to be refreshed for the next day?
These 5 practices make it easier for the recipient to respond. By making it easier for them to respond with the information we need it reduces back and forth messaging.
By changing our expectations and behavior, we can improve the efficiency of our communication. 2-3 emails are better than 10-15 emails. Especially now that many of us have more responsibilities on our plate.
When you start communicating with your team in mind you reduce messages and decrease the time it takes to have a conversation. Better communication allows everyone to reduce the number of messages in inboxes and complete projects quicker. Plus think about how much better your team would work with fewer messages to sort and respond to?
What practices do you have to streamline and simplify communication?