6 Reasons Why We Suck at Communicating and How to Avoid It


The phone rings and you answer. It's late in the day and the back and forth pleasantries end rather quickly. There is an issue. It's important but not a critical item. You write the problem down and think, "Who would be able to solve this best?" You hang up and open outlook. You write an email about the problem, type the person's name in the "To:" box, and press send. A huge burden is lifted off your chest. Your job is done. You stand up and begin to high five co-workers around you. Time to leave work early and get a drink.

A week passes and you begin to wonder, "What ever happened with that issue from last week?" It should have been resolved by now. I should call and follow-up. The conversation doesn't go so well.

You just saw that email? I have to provide additional information in order for you to resolve it? But, that's going to take time.

A week an a half later you finally resolve the problem. It delays the project, plus the work that should have been done has just started. The client shows up at your office and asks, "What's going on?" You take out your phone and point to the email you sent 2 1/2 weeks ago. How do you think that that turned out?

It seems like more and more projects are managed as if it was a game of hot potato, and the last one holding it is it. Is this an effective way of managing? If you're looking to get it off your plate, then yes you succeeded. But you didn't complete the task. In some instances it will work out, but most of the time we're not that lucky. Time is, and always will be, your greatest resource. To waste it can cripple a project. Did they drop the ball and not get back to you until a week later? Yes. Did they not tell you they needed additional information? Yes. But at the end of the day who is the client asking, Why their project is being delayed?

The most important part of the equation is you. Here are the six reasons why we suck at communicating and how to avoid it:

1. We Don't Understand the Issue: It sounds obvious but a lot of people don't take the time to fully understand the issue. Do you fully understand all aspects of the issue? Did you know what needed to be responded too? Maybe you should have known that they didn't have all of the relevant information. Step 1 is always, do you understand the problem or issue you are trying to solve? This goes with anything. How do you expect to convey the answer when you truly don't understand the problem? Even if you are starting a project you can ask this question. Do I know all of the necessary steps to complete this project? I am not talking every minute detail because you may have contractors that you are hiring to do this work. But the logical steps to complete the project.

2. We Don't Ask the Right People: If you fully understand the issue this is a no-brainer. But if you don't, you may not be involving the right people. If it isn't yourself, make sure you get the issue in front of the right person and they understand it. Don't expect them to decipher and assume what they think is the issue. Make it clear. No ambiguity.

3. We Don't Know Who Needs the Answer: There are times that it may not seem so obvious who will be affected throughout the duration of the project. Talk to other members of your team and make sure everyone who needs to know is included. Don't be afraid to ask. You don't want to be in the position of having the right answer and at the last minute realizing it affects someone who wasn't included.

4. We Don't Give an Appropriate Amount of Time: Ask how long it will take to receive an answer. Make sure this doesn't delay your project. To call every day will become a nuisance. The squeaky wheel technique works at first. But if every issue is dealt in this matter, it will be taken less seriously or worse ignored.

5. We Don't Check the Response to Make Sure It's Right: So you received the response. Just shoot out an email and call it a day? Doesn't work like that. We all just want it out of our hair. But if the response is wrong and you blindly send this out, it will create more confusion or worse delays. Double and Triple check the response that you receive. Make sure it makes sense and it's correct.

6. We Don't Make Sure Everyone Understands: I would suggest that you respond via email to all parties and following up individually with a phone conversation. If there are additional parameters, ie. it will be done in X amount of days, a follow up email should be sent so everyone is on the same page. There are two parts to this last step; coordination and comprehension. If everyone understands and knows when they are doing it, there can be no miscommunication.

This approach is more time consuming on your own end. But you can be assured that everyone understands and is moving in lock step towards the goal at hand. You can email, close your eyes, and pray. But that is no way to present yourself to ownership when completing a project.