Let’s begin with conventional wisdom:
To communicate effectively, you must be heard and understood.
Why state the obvious?
The reason: communications have changed during the past generation while old-school standards have been upended.
Communication then, and now
Back in the day: Pick up your desk phone, make a call, and have a conversation. Make a request, obtain a response: “OK, I understand, you want a dozen yellow size 11 widgets, individually packaged on Friday by 10 a.m. Got it. If I can’t get them, I’ll let you know by 9 a.m. Once I’ve secured the widgets, I’ll call you with a confirmation. And you will call me to confirm the one dozen yellow size 11 widgets, individually packaged have arrived.”
Today: Pull your cell phone out of your pocket, type in a telegraphic message, “I need the widgets by 10 a.m. Friday” click Send, pull back into traffic, keep driving. Wait for reply.
What’s changed is form and expectations.
Obviously, form includes all versions of e-communication including email, text messaging, online response boxes, IM/Skype, Facebook comments, group messages and threads, project management tools (such as 37signals Basecamp), collaborative tools (such as Dropbox, Google Docs, etc.). And it’s fast. However, there’s a problem. As communication became instantaneous, the reciprocal response has not. Not so good if you need to know if the one dozen individually packaged yellow widgets you ordered will arrive by Friday at 10 a.m.—or not.
“As communication became instantaneous, the reciprocal response has not.”
What are we waiting for?
Email etiquette does not require an immediate response, not even to acknowledge your message has been received, unless you have made a specific request. In fact, there are email charters, such as the one created by Chris Anderson and popularized by New York Times tech writer David Pogue, that define the problem as follows:
The average time taken to respond to an email is greater,
in aggregate, than the time it took to create.
The solution Anderson proposes is based on the tragedy of the commons—it requires we all get on board. His charter includes 10 rules to reverse the email spiral that consumes our time. Embedded amongst these rules are the very reasons that your communication may be ignored at first:
Rule # 2: Short or slow is not rude
Rule # 10: Disconnect!
Well, this is all fine and dandy, except . . . when? Except when you need a prompt response—when you are in the middle of an action requiring some sense of urgency. Rule of thumb:
If you want to be heard, ask.
If you have a communication with some urgency attached, the first step toward satisfaction is to assure your request has been heard. The second is that you are understood.
I suspect that I am not alone, when upon reaching the office Monday morning and seeing no response from the email I sent on Friday that I wonder if my message was received, or lost in the avalanche of weekend email.
There are some things to include in your original communication to help assure that the communication has been received and action is taking place. Because good business requires positive action is taking place in a timely way.
Have you been heard and understood?
|Clarity in request||I want a cup of coffee.|
Dark roast.How much?
Small cup, 8-10 oz.
|Confirm your request is understood.||Understand?* (too non-specific)Understand?
“Please repeat my request back to me.”
|More confirmation.||Detail of confirmation.
Let me know by 8:00 a.m. if you can pick up my coffee.
|More specificity.||Confirmation, how?
Let me know by tel. by 8:00 a.m., keep trying, do not leave a voicemail.
|Even more specificity, confirmation||Confirmation/specificity
Call me from the coffee shop to let me know they have the coffee, and that you can pick it up as requested.
Knock on my office door when you arrive. If I don’t answer, knock again in 3 minutes, and if I still don’t answer call me on the intercom.
This silly little example highlights where communications can go wrong if you do not assure you have been: 1) heard, and 2) understood.
Your request should request a response, within a certain timeframe. You must be concise, clear, specific, and include one or more feed-back mechanisms.
What’s the bottom line if you’re not heard? Well, maybe you’ll go without a cup of coffee. And that’s no way to start the day.