The workplace can be a minefield of communication problems. You need to be in constant touch with your teammates and coworkers in order to finish projects – but beyond just needing to get your point across clearly, you also need to navigate a whole collection of personalities and expectations.
To survive, you must practice the art of professional communication. Things that may be fine when you’re writing a letter to your grandma or texting your kids simply won’t pass muster in a professional setting. Some of these sins are just eye-roll-inducing, but others can turn into a serious career-threatening problem.
How many are you guilty of?
1. Rambling on and on (and on and on)…
Some people just don’t know how to be succinct. They send emails that go on for paragraph after paragraph, skirting around the point at hand, or expounding needlessly. You spend ten minutes trying to decipher what they want from you before realizing that all they need is a yes-or-no answer.
And forget lengthy emails – what about the presentation that drags on for an hour, but can in the end be summed up in three short bullet points? So frustrating.
We’re all swamped with inbox overload and overwhelmed with information – messages that are too long or too rambling will get lost in the shuffle, if they even get across at all.
To make sure your message gets communicated, trim the fat. Identify exactly what the point of the message is – what’s new, different, or important? Lead with that. If you can’t figure it out, then it’s probably not worth communicating in the first place.
(I’ll raise my hand as being guilty of this one on occasion!)
2. Not taking time to pause before sending emails.
Anytime you send out an email that tackles a potentially tricky subject, take a moment to think it through. Your meaning can be easily misconstrued, especially in writing, where emotion doesn’t always read well. If you’re having doubts about how your tone is coming across, send it to a trusted coworker first to get their opinion.
Angry? DON’T hit send! It may feel good to have ranted out your feelings, but emails sent rashly cause way more problems than they fix. Go for a walk, then come back and reread what you wrote. Do you still want to send it? Or would it be more beneficial to have a phone call or in-person conversation?
No matter the tone of your email, take a moment to proof read. Is everything spelled right? Punctuated correctly? Every email doesn’t need to be Pulitzer-prize-winning material, but if your emails regularly flout the basic tenets of grammar and spelling you won’t make a good impression.
3. Asking a thousand “quick questions.”
Constantly interrupting someone else’s workflow with a series of requests is a waste of time on both your ends. I had one coworker who would send email after email while proofing draft copy: “Can you check on XX?” would be followed by “Never mind,” followed by “Can you check on YY?”
The end result was a mass of emails, some of which mattered, some of which didn’t. Rather than making your coworkers insane with an endless supply of questions, batch together requests. If you know you’ll have more things coming up, then save up a draft of an email, type them all in, and send them all at once.
4. Not BCCing mass emails.
My senior year of college, the class leaders forgot to BCC everyone on a mass email about what our senior gift should be. Our entire class now had access to the mailing list of seniors, and the results weren’t pretty.
One person hit Reply to All to contest the idea for a senior gift, another person hit Reply to All to argue with the first person, and pretty soon the whole conversation devolved into a week-long Reply-to-All-Fest, with people asking to be removed from the list, people berating everyone for abusing the Reply to All function, and even with people hitting Reply to All to make movie date plans with a friend. It was epically entertaining.
Obviously, your organization isn’t staffed with 500 seniors giddy with the prospect of freedom, but it’s still good manners to BCC.
(Come to think of it, I don’t know that my class ever made a senior gift. I think the idea was washed away in a sea of rioting comments.)
5. Keeping everyone “in the loop.”
There’s a tendency in most offices to make sure everyone’s “in the loop.” From mass mailing the entire team about minor project updates to CC’ing a coworker on an email chain that marginally pertains to their role, the end result is inboxes full of information that we may or may not need to know.
Seriously, reread point number 4. Don’t be the person that hits Reply to All without thinking through who actually needs to hear your reply. I worked in one office where one coworker would routinely Reply to All on IT staff announcements to ask basic questions, rather than just directing his questions to the IT department. The result? All the rest of us learned how little he knew about working his computer.
6. CC’ing supervisors to get results.
You’ve been trying to get ahold of a certain coworker for days to get his contribution for a project. Your emails are going unanswered, your voicemails are going unreturned. Finally, you send one last email with your mutual supervisor CC’ed. Bam. Within minutes, the response you needed from your coworker is in your inbox.
While this may be an effective tactic, be careful about CC’ing supervisors as a means to lighting a fire under someone. Yes, it can alert the higher-ups to a problem, but it also sends a message of distrust to the person you’re emailing. It’s passive aggressive, and can come off like tattling. If you’re having a problem you need your supervisor to know about, go to her directly.
7. Not acknowledging messages.
Don’t leave coworkers wondering if you ever got their message. Replying with a simple “Thank you,” or “I’ll check on that” takes only a second, and lets them know they don’t have to hunt you down and ask you about it again later.
I once was trying to chase down a source for an interview – I’d sent her an email, then called and left a message, and then finally got her direct line from the secretary and got ahold of her. She told me the reason she hadn’t returned my first email was because they’d discontinued the program I wanted to talk to her about. I no longer needed to talk to her, but now I was wasting both of our time because she hadn’t taken a minute to let me know after my first two attempts to communicate.
What do you see as hindering good office communication?