Thursday, March 20, 2014

Workplace Communication: Too Much, Too Little, Just Enough

How many times have you walked away from a meeting thinking to yourself that you don’t have enough information to perform the tasks at hand? Or maybe you sat through a long stretch of discussion in the meeting where a lot of information was shared by the team but none was relevant to you.

Communication, we all acknowledge, helps us perform better, but the corollary to the fact is that when there’s too much or too little of it, there are breakdowns in overall productivity. Too much communication is a general pain point these days, but what most people don’t realize is that, with the wealth of information around us these days, we may exchange a lot of information but it may not necessarily be effective communication.

In the case of client-service provider relationship, the role that communication plays becomes pivotal. Add to that an onsite-offshore delivery model and the communication lines become even more complex. Over the years, many benchmarks have been set up for such settings, but the process and channels continue to stay riddled and prone to errors caused by too much or too little communication. Some ground rules can be established in order to set the tone for a good relationship.

  • Establish rules of communication after a formal discussion with the client. Once the process is formalized, it offers the advantage of no longer being prone to the variations of individual styles.
  • Conclude on what needs to be communicated in status reporting, including all stakeholders that need to be copied on the daily/weekly/monthly statuses and emails.
  • Formalize a format of communication, for instance the communication of questions during the planning phase of a project to be logged in a tool or sent across to business team directly.
  • Once the process has been established stick to it by any means, say the monthly metrics for all projects are communicated on a quarterly basis, then this schedule must never get disrupted without prior notification.

Where too much communication can hurt productivity, too little communication can lead to an array of disasters like unclear expectations and low team morale followed by gossip and rumours. Withholding pertinent information from anyone, be it superiors, peers or subordinates, results in them feeling disregarded and many times leads to them inferring assumptions from the lack of information. A common mistake made by a lot of people is being afraid of asking for help at work. It is very important to communicate with your team/manager and ask specifically for what you need in order to get the job done right. When unclear on whether you have provided enough information, make sure that you leave the door open for further conversation by mentioning “you can get in touch with me whenever you need” or “please feel free to ask questions”.

In order to make your communication effective focus on these areas:

Verbal communication

  • Listen well
  • Do not make assumptions
  • Ask for feedback
  • Practice your presentation skills
  • Ask questions wherever you need clarification
  • Always check with the other person if they have a few minutes when you call

Non-verbal communication

  • Work on having a confident body language
  • Display interest in what the other person is saying
  • Learn about the cultural differences when working with people across different cultures

Written communication

  • Always perform a grammar and spell check before sending out any document/email
  • Always provide a relevant subject line to the emails
  • Always double check the attachments or links provided in the email

Teleconference/Videoconference calls

  • Keep up time
  • Announce yourself when you join the meeting
  • Mute your phone if you’re not the speaker
  • Take notes
  • Ask questions whenever you need more clarification

We can improve our communication and ensure getting the right message across by being clear, concise and precise. Having an agenda for a meeting, sticking to it and including only the people related to the agenda helps in furthering the effectiveness of communication and helps maintain good productivity levels. Similarly, keeping your email and phone conversation brief and to-the-point saves valuable time for everyone.

Think of your team/workplace as a network where all individual systems work together in coordination. If there is lack/delay/overflow of load then it is bound to crash. Beat the issue of over or under communication by constantly assessing the amount of emails, teleconferences/videoconferences, and phone calls against your productivity. Over time you will be able to figure out the middle path where you will communicate just right.

It was previously thought that that you either have communication skills or you don’t. We now know that communication is a skill that needs constant honing.

Farhat Afridi is a Test lead at Prolifics having over 10 years of experience in testing, with extensive experience in Retail domain. She specializes in Oracle retail suite of applications. She holds a bachelor's degree in Electronics Engineering from Bangalore University.