I’m about to make a massive overstatement. Here it is: Communication failures are the source of most problems at work. I have some data and hard research to back this up. Accountemps reports that withholding information from employees “is the most common management mistake.”According to the Clear Company, 86% of employees and executives cite “lack of collaboration or ineffective communication” as the reason for work problems. Businesses with excellent communication practices are less likely to have high levels of employee turnover. When communication problems rise, so do customer service issues, absenteeism, management frustration, litigation, and injuries.
Yes, poor communication hurts the business bottom line. Let’s all just say “ouch.” What’s the obvious takeaway from this litany of mind-numbing statistics?
I’m going to give you some really practical ways to do so. First however, I want you to make this article personal. Think with me about a workplace frustration you’ve had. Maybe a recent one. Maybe one in the distant past. Got it?
Okay. Is there anything in that workplace conundrum that had to do with communication? I have no clue what your workplace frustration is or was, but I’m guessing that communication was a part of it.
Over the course of my career, I’ve held a variety of jobs. For the past seven years, these jobs have been remote. If one simple solution could have fixed all the problems I encountered, even in remote work, it would be this: Better communication.
Better communication often means over communication. Sure, there are questions you can ask and phrases you can utter, but at the core you must be communicating more. More communication is usually better.
Here’s how you can do over communication without totally annoying everyone.
Have short, frequent meetings.
Most meetings are a waste of time. A whopping 63% of all meetings operate without a planned agenda. (Gasp!) 73% of meeting attendees are doing something else during the meeting. (Candy Crush Saga, anyone?)
Finally, United States businesses blow $37 billion on unnecessary meetings every year. (Pick yourself up off the floor, and keep reading this article.)
This article is about over communication, but please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not advising you to have useless meetings. Meetings are, I grudgingly admit, a necessary evil. (Emphasis on the evil.) Since they are necessary, make them short.
Here’s how to do it.
Hold a daily standup meeting. According to The Journal of Applied Psychology, you can slash your meeting time by 35% just by standing up for the duration of the meeting.
Apple and Google both reportedly live by the stand up meeting. Others call it a “scrum.” This meeting is a regular part of the agile management practices.
Plank during the meeting. For the hardcore startups with youthful employees, this is a good one. Plank.
This is not a prayer meeting. It is a plank meeting at Gravity. Dan Price is the guy with the beard.
Have everyone do jumping jacks while Dogbert pelts you with office supplies.
Okay, never mind. We’ll leave it at the plank.
Take one-on-one walks.
Here’s how this works.
- The boss and one employee go for a walk.
- It happens once a week.
- The “agenda” is loose and open-ended.
- The goal is frequent communication and casual interaction.
- Side benefit: Exercise and happiness.
These walking meetings are also called the “walk and talk.”
My first experience with the walk and talk was at my first “real” office job. I was working under the direct supervision of a former VP of a Fortune 500 company. He was one of the most influential business mentors I’ve had.
He stood up from his desk one time, walked over to mine, and said, “Come on. Let’s walk.” I was like, “This is weird.” We hiked around the business campus for a while, and by the end of our walk and talk, I was thinking, “This is cool.”
He gave me some excellent and informal training, provided authentic feedback, and we connected as real people.
Later, when I submitted my resignation to move on to bigger and better things, we had another walk and talk. Again, it was cool.
- It increases creative thinking.
- It leads to more honest exchanges with employees.
- It improves openness to ideas and transparency in communication.
Neurochemical research has discovered that the simple act of walking prompts the rush of relaxant hormones. These, according to Dr. Ted Eytan, Medical Director of the Kaiser Permanente Center, improve the brain’s executive function. We use our executive function to make critical work decisions, experience creativity, and improve focus.
All these benefits, simply from a walking meeting? Yes, and more.
To the point of this article, I would also add that walking introduces a creative way to increase communication without annoyance. The walk and talk helps to change things around, adding a new angle to the communication process. Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and thousands of not-quite-so-famous business leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs swear by the walking meeting.
For more information on walking meetings, check out these helpful sources:
- Huffington Post: Why Walking Meetings Can Be Better Than Sitting Meetings
- FeetFirst.org: Guide to Walking Meetings
- Forbes: How Taking More Meetings Could Save Your Life
- Harvard Business Review: How to Do Walking Meetings Right
Schedule regular meeting lunches.
For some reason, Americans prefer to talk over food. I can see a few problems with this approach, but at least our proclivity to feed and talk gets us communicating.
Meeting over meals helps to blend the causal necessity of a lunch (or breakfast) with getting work stuff done. Even these guys dig it.
Inc. details some of the advantages that accrue by providing employer-sponsored eats. Here are few of those advantages:
- Increased collaboration and innovation
- Enhanced learning environment
- Good mood — people do get hangry, you know.
- Community feel
- Opportunity for celebration
- Improved morale
You don’t want to overdo this one. Many employees simply want to get away from the office and get work out of their minds during lunch. The last thing that they want is to meet with their manager while chewing on their turkey sandwich.
If you can do so on an every-so-often basis, it makes sense to hang out over a meal and talk through work stuff. If it’s your treat, then it won’t be quite as annoying.
Have a clear plan for scheduled meetings.
I strongly recommend those stop-by-the-cubicle chats and coffee-refill get-togethers. These are one-off incidentals that just happen. Random. Cool. If, however, you have a scheduled meeting with an employee, then you should have a plan for the meeting. Employees get spooked by bosses who “just want to chat,” or “simply wanted to hang out.”
No. Have a plan. A clear one. An emailed one.
Having a plan for each meeting cuts away at the risk for annoyance. If an employee senses that you’ve taken the time to prepare for the meeting, draft an agenda, and consider the points, it shows that you respect the time that he or she will spend meeting with you.
For example, you meet with Fred each Tuesday at 2pm. On Tuesday morning, you send Fred a quick note:
“Hey, Fred. Looking forward to chatting at 2pm. I want to discuss your project communication plan for Project X, and brainstorm a few ways to get project Y back on budget.”
No fear. No big deal. No annoyance.
Since I operate in a remote work environment, I tend to think about how remote managers and employees can improve their communication. (You can still take walk and talks, but you’ll have to do it on the phone.)
One of the best things that my former CEO did for me was to hold regularly scheduled meetings. The entire team was distributed, meaning that we all worked from separate areas of the globe.
The CEO, however, took thirty minutes each week with each employee to talk through things. I knew that every Monday afternoon we were going to talk.
These regular meetings allowed me to feel engaged, while helping both of us stay current on company issues, events, and goings-on. Far from being annoying, it contributed to my success at the company, and allowed me to provide more value.
Mix and match communication methods.
Every manager has their preferred method of communication. Every employee has theirs.
To over communicate without annoying, find out how your employee best receives and processes information, and try to accommodate. If you are communicating in the worst possible way for a given employee, then it will become annoying. As a result, your communication will become far less effective. Stay consistent with your communication model, so the employee can know what to expect.
“Over communication” has a negative vibe to it. Don’t confuse over communication with micro management. The two are not the same. The best managers are those who communicate regularly, frequently, clearly, and openly. Communication makes the manager.
To improve your project management, team management, or, hey, even your life management, learn to communicate more. As you do, I’m pretty sure you’ll communicate better. Plus, you’ll have far fewer annoyed people in your life.