Three Techniques to Communicate More Effectively


We spend a lot of time in our jobs communicating with other people, whether it’s sending someone an e-mail or zapping them an instant message. Just because we have multiple channels of communication available to us, however, doesn’t mean we’re using them in the most efficient manner.

Take me, for example. For the longest time, I was a prisoner to my inbox. I was checking and responding to e-mails all the time. When I wasn’t in the office, I was glued to a smartphone. It seemed like I was spending more time reading and sending messages than getting actual work done.

Earlier this year, I decided to streamline the way I communicate with others. This meant learning to use old tools in new ways and familiarizing myself with some new methods of communicating. Here are three techniques that helped me get my weekends and evenings back and communicate in a more timely and efficient manner. Perhaps they can work for you!

Prioritize your methods

Constant instant messages (IMs) flashing at the bottom of our screens, voice mails to answer, e-mails in our inbox—how do we manage it all? One of the things many of us are looking for is not just another way to communicate, but a better way to use the means we already have and ultimately cut down on the amount of time we spend communicating.

The first thing I did was prioritize how I use each channel of communication:

  • Instant Messaging and Telephone Calls: These are for emergencies only. If I need to get a hold of someone immediately and convey time-sensitive information, I use IM and the phone.
  • E-mail: Our primary channel of communication should be used to convey information that, while important, does not require an immediate response.

The above represent our traditional channels, but I encourage you to consider alternative means of communication, specifically blogs and wikis. I use these two channels for sharing information that isn’t time sensitive, thus sparing coworkers the hassle of responding to an IM or responding to an e-mail.

Since I manage a team – our Monthly report is always an email mess. I decided to use our companies internal social computing tool to form my team site. We know have a discussion section for our monthly bullets for each member to add. This has reduced email by at least 10 per person. 

Overcome redundancy

One obstacle we face in our communications is what I call a “redundancy mindset.” How many times have you sent someone an e-mail and then sent them an IM to let them know you just sent them an e-mail? This wastes your time and theirs.

Similarly, sending an e-mail that repeats information you’ve posted on a blog or a wiki also wastes time. In order to streamline the way you and your team communicate, you’ll need to change set behavior patterns and start looking for information in new places.

I require all members of my team to check the team’s group blog or discussions on a regular basis for important information. Instead of relying on e-mail notifications, I require members of my team to install a Real Simple Syndication (RSS) reader to help them monitor updates to the team’s group. Tame the inbox

E-mail is what I call the “King Distraction.” If you open your inbox the moment you sit down at your desk, you can waste an hour working on e-mail without tackling the more important tasks you need to get to. Here are steps I’ve taken to tame my inbox and reclaim a lot of my time:

  • Three times a day: I open and check my e-mail at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Before I adopted this schedule, I was checking my e-mails during meetings and wasn’t paying attention. I was getting work done but letting potentially more important tasks fall by the wayside.
  • Keep it brief: When I send e-mails, I keep them short and crisp; you’re never going to get a dissertation from me in your inbox. If there’s a lot of information I need to share, I’ll use a blog or a wiki.
  • Think before you send: Remember, for every e-mail you send out, you’ll likely get a response. If you CC 15 people on an e-mail, there’s a good chance 15 extra e-mails will end up in your inbox. Only copy other people if it’s completely necessary. If you find you’re e-mailing back and forth a lot on a certain subject, arrange a meeting or post information on a blog.

I only respond to e-mail when I have something worthwhile to say and have offloaded much of my e-mail production to blogs and phone calls. I also don’t bother with “Thank you” e-mails. If someone asks me to send them something, I don’t need an e-mail saying “Thanks” zapped back to me. It takes up inbox space and doesn’t serve any important purpose.

I’m sending less e-mail and receiving less. It’s funny how that works. I began my new approach to e-mail in February. Here’s how things panned out after 90 days:

  • E-mails received: Before, I averaged 150 e-mails a day; I now average 86.
  • E-mails sent: Before, I sent 95 e-mails a day. Now, I send 40.
  • Nice post Steve! I am still trying to follow your lead. One of the big takeaways I take from your post is that you changed the way your team works too. I feel that is a key element in order to make the shift. Keep going!

  • Laurie – changing the team was a process. I had some folks that were right in-line with the changes – no questions asked. Others played the wait and see game – they are starting to see the value. A few are hoping that I go back to their comfort level, which will not be happening.

    Moving their cheese is painful for most folks. It is a process that over time – the laggers will either catch up or will be left behind. For the most part, I am happy with the response.