We Think We’re Communicating Enough. But We’re Not.

I got super annoyed last week. I was on a Zoom call and an innocent participant asked a question about an initiative we had rolled out a few weeks back. I audibly sighed, curtly answered the question - and then, because I just couldn’t help myself, I icily pointed out this exact question had been answered at the team meeting we held to discuss the initiative when it was first rolled out.  

My passive aggressive attitude kept building as I realized that other team members also seemed to be unclear about the updated initiative. But, I only communicated this update once during the virtual team meeting. And what was happening when I was making my big announcement? One team member may have been about to hit “Purchase” on her Amazon basket; another team member may have been composing an email to a client; another team member may have been scrolling through an amazing article about Meghan and Harry in US Weekly; a final one may have just mentally checked out of the meeting. 


In my mind, I had sufficiently communicated this big change to the team. But for the rest of the team who wasn’t as close to the initiative, they needed to hear the message multiple times in multiple forms to fully grasp the change. 

 

My message in this blog is simple: To be a great manager, communicate early and communicate often. As managers in fast-paced environments, we get really busy and we forget to communicate. Or we think that the information we could share isn’t that important. Or we think that we are communicating plenty and that we are sharing enough with our teams. 


I hate to break it to you. You probably aren’t communicating to your team members enough--especially in today’s remote work environment. And, when we don’t communicate, our team members feel isolated, they find less meaning in their jobs, and they might feel a sense of loss if they used to be more aware of information when your organization was smaller. And, our team members trust us less. They don’t know if our lack of communication is due to busyness or forgetfulness, or if the lack of communication is due to purposeful evasiveness. 


I’m going to share a few tips and techniques about how to improve your communication as a manager. But, if you’re short on time, just remember the following quote:  

“Repetition never hurt the prayer.”

- Anonymous


Communicate. Communicate again. Rinse, repeat. Rinse and repeat one more time. 


Okay - what else can you do to be a great communicator to your team members? 


Five Ways to Up Your Communications Game 

  1. Set expectations. Often our teams get frustrated about communications because they think they should be made aware of something and then aren’t (a great example of this is why a person left the company - it’s often not appropriate to share the details behind why someone left, but then the team gets frustrated because they feel like you’re being sketchy about not sharing). Set some communication expectations with your team. Let them know what information you’ll actively communicate, which information they can get passively (e.g., you might not actively communicate team budget, but they can go on the shared drive and find it), and which information you won’t share and why (e.g., cap table with equity amounts).  

  2. Weekly Email: Get in the habit of sending a weekly email to your team that summarizes any big news for the week. This suggestion sounds super simple and really boring, but the power is in its consistency. Set a day and time and commit to sending the email. I also find that a consistent structure (e.g., an operations section, product section, people section) that you can repeatedly populate works well. It also ensures that you don’t miss information that should be shared. 

  3. Senior Team Meeting Output: Commit to sharing high-level bullet points from management meetings or senior team meetings. Often our teams interpret no information as something nefarious. In reality, we provide no information because we’re just disorganized and a bit lazy. Five bullet points highlighting what was discussed at a senior team meeting goes a long way in making people feel in-the-know and comfortable.  

  4. Internal Communication Strategy: Put together a light internal communications strategy for your team. This is just a quick overview of the different communication channels (e.g., the weekly team meeting, your weekly email, the team Slack channel) and what key pieces of information (e.g., new hires starting, updates from other functions, company financials) are communicated in each channel. 

  5. Ask and Ask Again: During team meetings, ask your team members if they have outstanding questions or if any information is unclear or hasn’t been communicated. If you get a lot of "Everything sounds good" responses, make your questions more pointed (e.g., "What's one thing that is not clear about this new initiative?" Again, it’s a simple thing, but makes a huge difference if you build the habit of asking your team what questions they have especially during team update meetings.  

I was recently on a three-way Facetime call with two of my closest friends. As we were all chatting away, it became very obvious that one friend was multi-tasking. She had that glazed over look in her eyes, her “uh huh’s” became slightly out of sync with the rest of us, and every so often we could see her shoulders slightly move as her off-screen hands typed away.  This little vignette is a metaphor for what we are all facing right now. Tons of distractions, way too much to juggle, and both information overload and information isolation as we interact from behind our screens.  As managers, we need to take this into account as we communicate with our teams.

In closing, I'll leave you with the following thought. A friend of mine is working with some fancy pants consultants. They frequently tell her:

"We’re going to tell you what we are going to tell you, then we will tell you and then we will tell you what we told you."

There’s a reason why they’re on a multi-million dollar retainer! So get communicating!

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