Why Over-communicating is Bad

In my previous post I shared that I actually spend 40% of my time in communicating instead of execution. This is because marketing can never work alone, it just won’t work.

I am a firm believer that effective communication will speed things up and boost productivity – only if it is the right kind. Most often than not, I find myself in a communication dilemma where I would start questioning “am I spending too much time communicating instead of executing?”. 

This happens when things are not moving as it should and I need to figure out how to move things forward. The example of crafting meeting minutes or even excel timeline in my previous post is a perfect example of this.

In this post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on:

  • Definition of communication.
  • The importance of communication.
  • Why people over-communicate (the fallacy of effective communication)
  • How to improve communication skills.

Definition of Communication

Communication at work.
10 levels of communication intimacy at work.

Instead of explaining definition of communication in words, I find the image to be intriguingly relevant to us. We can talk with one another, call one another (to the extent of leaving phone contact), but we won’t add them as friends on Facebook or Twitter in the first place.

Apparently we treat our social media account far more valuable than our email or phone contact. I suppose this is the embodiment of separating work & personal life.

While the forms or platforms for communication have changed drastically, the fact is, we are still seeking to communicate with one another with an additional filtering. Work related issue goes to company email and my personal sensitive ranting goes to my own Facebook status.

As long as we’re speaking or writing to someone, yes we’re attempting to communicate. And this leads to the very next point.

The Importance of Communication

Why is communicating with one another so important? You see, when we try to speak with other people, we’re trying to establish a mutual understanding on certain topic leading to actionable items. This is why we need to talk and discuss things out.

Well, you don’t need to discuss if it is a love at first sight. But in order to get things done in work, you seriously need to spend some quality time in discussing and crafting out next steps a.k.a action items.

Seeking for alignment is always the top priority for me prior starting any projects. Getting consent and getting buy-ins from all parties are always in my top to-do-list. Establishing common ground is important especially if you want to things to move fast and efficient.

Do note that while I understand that alignment and cooperation from all parties are needed to make things work, that doesn’t mean I’ll hide my own ideas and just to go along with the “crowd” or “committees”. I find that many people fall into this mindset where “yeah yeah whatever you said man, I just wanna get shit done, might as well just get along.”

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocry – Oren Harari

Most of the time people are afraid of voicing out is because they want to be the nice guy, pleasing everyone in the process, and this is detrimental for a person or business. Let’s put things into perspective in the scenario (you might find this awfully familiar):

  • A certain issue was raised during meeting.
  • X suggested solution A.
  • Everyone agreed that it’s a good solution and ways to move forward.
  • Few days after the meeting X heard someone doing toilet talk and gossiping about the solution was horrendous.
  • Based on monitoring, there is nothing wrong with the solution.

It happened to me few times, and I believe that you might have experienced this too. While I couldn’t care less about the toilet talk, what intrigued me was why that particular person doesn’t voice out during the meeting?

We communicate to seek alignment, establishing common ground so we can move forward. Doing toilet talk such as this will only raise doubt against the agreed decision, disrupting the whole operation flow. My core principle on meeting is that when meeting has ended, everyone must be well aligned with the core objective or solution, all issues should be addressed during the meeting.

Don’t be a nice guy. Don’t take communicating or voicing out your own opinion is an act of offending someone. It’s merely a form to establish mutual understanding to seek out the best solution.

Why People Over-communicate

Over-communicate means repeating the same information to the same audience (or irrelevant audience given the phase of the project) more than one time. It’s a sign of over-sharing information to the extent where people lose sight of things, goals or even in my case, I actually spend more time in sending updates, crafting gantt chart, managing timelines yet this does not prove to solve the core issue – things are not moving.

We often hear that if you want someone to be reminded of their tasks, you need to repeat them 3 – 5 times. In fact, this sort of communication style was often set as used as away to validate what you understood from your superior by rephrasing it your way, except that you only repeat once.

While that form of feedback is effective in validating comprehension, it is being abused when it comes to the following scenarios:

  • The email thread turned into a chat room with irrelevant (non-progressive) updates.
  • Things are not moving and status update became pointless (imagine someone keep sending you emails on “we have no progress! x 5 times).
  • Or someone who just couldn’t decide what information to share and he/she decided to share everything.
Time Spent on Email
For every 10 minutes spend on our actual job, we spend 7 minutes on email.

The point is – while communication is supposed to keep us updated, it should also be progressive. Imagine you’re one of the team member who kept receiving the irrelevant updates, you might be able to ignore one or two of those, what if you have 10 – 20 per day blasting to your email? You will lose sight of things that are important to you.

Doing a weekly milestone check is fine, but when people tend to over-share information it becomes hazardous. When you over-share things you make people lose sight of what is important.

People over-share things because:

  • They couldn’t discern what is important and figured everyone should be kept in the loop.
  • To not be accused of not supplying needed information.
  • Treating it as a way to “informing” everyone not to repeat the same mistake.(when someone did a mistake)
Why Email is Terrible for Team Collaboration
Why Email is Terrible for Team Collaboration

This happens a lot now with all the email we all have to deal with. The problem is those people can’t discern between information that is needed and information that is superfluous and just gets in the way. It’s important, in order to be a good communicator, to know what information to share. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than getting stacks of statistic-laden emails about a tech roll-out but then not actually getting an email when the roll-out is happening.

Ask yourself if the information that you’re getting ready to email to everyone will honestly impact their jobs. Do they need to know? If not, speaking directly with the cause of delay / issue might be a better solution.

How To Improve Communication Skills

When I discuss about communication skills, I don’t look at soft skills alone or rather, I look at the whole communication system. Here is what I find to be relevant for all organisations:

  • Developing a feedback channel – encourage sharing across all personnel.
  • Focus on developing employee engagement, make them care for their work.
  • Discuss problems without ego.

Developing a feedback channel encourages idea sharing and most importantly, you don’t need to rigidly wait for weekly milestone check to pivot.

I had an issue recently where I waited for a month with weekly milestone check, all I get was “I don’t know how to do”. Heck, when I was doing checking around all I get was “I am busy, will look into it next week”. As a one-man team, I often find this to be extremely frustrating.

I spent a quality 2 hours with the PIC, the discussion was fruitful albeit we had two different opinions on how things should be executed. In the end we both agreed that PIC had the flexibility to decide on how to execute things based on an expected timeline. But things did not turned up as expected. Long story short – I had to do it on my own.

Time Spent on Communication Barriers

If we were to have an engaging feedback channel back then, things might be different. HBR did a quick survey on business success where they interviewed 550 CEOs on what factors were most likely to bring them business success in the next year, employee engagement ranked in the top three, above ability to innovate and even sales and marketing. Feedback leads to employees caring about their work, and if executives are right, that leads to business results.

When feedback is regularly exchanged between managers and employees, engagement jumps to 79%.

But let’s face it, we’re human — and human beings find it tough to give and receive feedback. Many of us — let’s be real, all of us — get defensive when we hear it, and we assume nobody wants to hear it from us. So feedback gets chronically buried and put off.

I’m still struggling to find the appropriate way to feedback as it is too dynamic (a person’s mood, authority, hierarchy, background etc). This post from Asana on blunt, effective feedback has enlightened me in many way, in a nutshell:

  • It’s not who you are, it’s what you do. Focus the feedback on behavioral pattern that causes the issue.
  • Honest, critical feedback can actually strengthen your bond rather than degrade it. Never be indecisive when it comes to commenting on work.
  • Speak your feelings without accusation.

Not all feedback can sound the same even with the most noble intention. Justin from Asana shared his first hand experience on this:

About a year ago, a few people came to me concerned about one of our teammates. They said she wasn’t open to new ideas and that her attitude was damaging the team. I asked her on a walk.

“I’ve been hearing that some of your teammates feel you aren’t open to new ideas,” I told her, trying to sound kind.

She looked sad and deflated. I was off to a rough start. Despite my friendly tone, I had already realized the feedback was unspecific, second-hand, and judgemental.

Instead of focusing the feedback on the person itself, Justin actually find success by observing the behavioral pattern that leads to this issue:

The next week, I decided to try something new. I watched her in action during some meetings we were both in, looking for what other people might be seeing. And I saw for myself something that was likely causing at least part of the problem.

I pulled her aside. “I’ve found that when people are sharing new ideas and a member of the team is leaning back, arms folded, to me that person looks like they’re not open or interested.”

She looked concerned, but not defensive. There was no argument to be had here. She didn’t want to debate what folded arms meant. What I was saying was not specific to her. This opened her to noticing a range of subtle ways in which she was appearing closed to her teammates, and we worked together over the next month to address them.

When people start saying that someone “is or isn’t something,” try to observe what that person is or isn’t doing. As close to the moment of observation as possible, present them with the behavior and offer to help them address it.

Conclusion

I’ve found that we over-communicate due to insecurity, and most often than not, this lies in the root of culture where it punishes mistake more than anything else.

I find feedback to be extremely valuable and key to growth, optimizing processes and thrive together. I count myself to believe that employee engagement is key to achieving business goals.

Most important of all, feedback can only work when it is consistently practiced and imbued in culture. It is a commitment to learn more every day.

Share with me on your thoughts on over-communicating? Do you have similar experience?

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