I like details.
I like specific questions. I like specific answers. I like conversation. And most especially (besides sheer writing for the joy of it), I like thorough two-way communication.
But sometimes, no matter how much you like to communicate, you find yourself on uneven ground, face to face with someone else who does not communicate the same way as you.
I’ve been told that I’m too bold, and that I’m too timid. That I’m too detailed and that I don’t communicate enough detail. And so often times, it begins to feel like some kind of dance. Which direction will this dance partner take me today? And will I be able to follow suit?
And that’s without the “do I take them literally, figuratively or read between the lines” sub-rhythm that I also know all too well.
Since I like writing, and because I like being thorough, when it comes to letters and emails I can tend to get wordy if I’m not careful. And I tend to write the same way I’d converse with someone. Some people really like that.
But not everyone.
Some people will only communicate over email in cryptic short bursts. And more often than not, these are the people who tell me that I don’t communicate enough. When the reality is, I gave them so much information, they just didn’t really read it.
Often when I catch on to someone’s short communication pattern, I will try to pattern after them, and keep my responses short like theirs. My husband is more like this. I’ve figured out that I need to keep any emails I send him short, focused and sweet, or call him instead. One or two lines, no more. Otherwise, he won’t read my email. He just won’t. And then I’ll hear later how I never told him something.
However sometimes, especially in business, I can’t justify using short burst communication, because there are too many important details that need to be addressed. And this is when I really need whomever I’m working with to get over their preferences and adapt to me so we can get things done.
And yet, the cryptic short burst communication type folks will still tend not to read what the information they are sent.
Sometimes I try to relegate communication to “phone only” with these individuals, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to refuse to use phone conversations anymore. Which to me is quite weird, because typing is such a one-dimensional way to communicate, much less in a few sentences of 8 words or less.
I’ve seen more misunderstandings take place thanks to only communicating in text over the internet than anything else in all my life. Ninety percent of the time, if someone would just pick up the phone, there wouldn’t end up being a misunderstanding at all.
There’s a little rule of thumb my husband taught me that he used in his sales job and that I view as a golden truth: If it takes more than two emails, it’s time to pick up the phone.
But you can’t force someone to call you.
These are the times that try my professional soul. And sometimes my PTO motherhood soul. And sometimes my wifely soul too. Though hubby and I have the luxury of recapping with each other every day.
So when that important communication blunder takes place, what can you do?
One idea: Try to head it off before it takes place. Establish a particular format or a thumb-nail sketch of rules that you use to govern your communication by.
For instance, I used to require a phone number before I would work with anyone over a custom order and insist on talking with them over the phone at some point. It helped a lot. It kept me from hours on the computer just trying to talk to people, and it kept me from misunderstanding something because all I got was a 10 word response. Having phone access gave my clients and I both a much clearer understanding of one another. Not to mention it kept people from forgetting about their orders too.
However, I’ve gotten away from that practice, thinking perhaps I didn’t really need it, especially for internet sales. And it hasn’t worked out as well. Some things work out just fine and others, not so much. When I’ve asked for someone’s address four times, it gets a little annoying after a while. So I’m probably going to reinstate that rule again. Along with a general structure of required information that I want before I even consider their project.
When push comes to shove in business and communication, we need a structure and a plan. Since the only person in the world we can truly control is ourselves, sometimes we just have to check ourselves, try to listen to the beat, roll with the music and dance anyway. But other times, we need to build checks and balances into our system to take care of potential issues that arise. Like my phone number requirement for custom work. Or a basic who, what, why, where, when, how approach.
The truth is, people really mostly want to hear about themselves, what interests them most and be pampered. And it’s our job as professionals to figure out what all that is. We listen, we ask, we take notes. But somewhere in there the customer has to meet us in the middle.
I’m here to serve you.
I’m not however a mind reader. I do not offer, nor do I provide that service.
So it’s your job to 1) help me understand how best to serve you and 2) help me understand what your expectations are. Because I cannot deliver what I don’t understand and I cannot live up to something I have no idea exists, much less never offered.
Which means all I have left is to take you at your own words.
All ten of them.
7 responses to “The Balance Between Communicating Too Much And Not Enough”
Great post! That balance is so important and often poses problems for me even though I am a trainer in intercultural communication. As an introvert, I hate talking on the phone and would prefer to send 10000 emails rather than have one phone call! I think written language is good for communication because it happens in a slower way and you can think before you answer.
That is definitely an advantage Olga! However, my take is to never rely on any one way. With my background in special education and marketing, I can tell you that not everyone receives information effectively this way. The only thing that’s ever worked in my charity campaigns and projects is to take a multi-pronged approach and be ready to use whichever a customer needs. Some people receive and retain information best via audio, some visual, some tactile (ie. face-to-face and handshake). My son is a prime example of someone who has trouble with the visual, but remembers everything he hears. In fact, he has trouble writing papers for school without having a discussion about it first. Me, I’m opposite. I had so many ear-infections as a kid. If I can’t have visual references or writing, it’s hard for me to remember information. And writing helps me figure out what I want to say verbally. When it comes to phone conversations, though I love a great talk, I have to take notes. And I often use multi-colored highlighters to help me retain information as well. None of us are the same, that’s way we need multiple tactics and try to round out our skills.
Great post! In my experience, communication frustration also comes not because we don’t share what we want or need the other party to know, but because the other party isn’t focused on the conversation.
Thanks! That’s another really good point Candace. And I guess that’s the part to figure out. What will better help that other person focus where we need them to?
Communication is definitely becoming a lost art form. It is so sad to see two family members in the same house, if not the same room, texting one another instead of talking. Trust me, I’ve seen it. Really, really sad commentary on where we are headed in the future. Written word is so easy to misinterpret but it’s becoming more and more the major form of communication.
Tinochka, you bring up a valid point. Technology is a great tool, but I’d hate to see it completely replace real life.
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