Over-communication is a double-edged sword. Its managerial benefits are clear and scientifically proven — a Harvard study found out that redundant communication contributed by notifications or transactional emails helps push projects much faster.
On the other hand, over-communicative bosses are usually the “bad cops” of the entire team. By now, you must’ve heard someone saying (or said so yourself) “Why do we need another meeting about this?” or “Why does this guy never shut up?”.
As team leaders, we want to be heard. However, we hate to be annoying. This write-up is a reflection of our team’s journey towards overcommunication without being overbearing.
Why Should You Over-Communicate?
At first glance, over-communication is a waste of time. Onboarding emails and meetings take time to host and write and eat up your team’s productive hours. And yet, top-tier team leaders (the likes of the CEO of Hilton Worldwide) swear by the benefits of over-communication, claiming that there’s no such thing as saying too much.
“Even when you think you are communicating an idea too much and think no one wants to hear it anymore, you can’t stop”
Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide
Why do team leaders have to speak up as much as possible? Here are a few convincing reasons:
- We assume others know things better than they do. At the root of miscommunication at most workplaces (especially remote), there’s a chain of false assumptions. Not knowing what others are working on or not understanding expectations clearly peaks in excuses such as “I thought you did that so I didn’t” or “I thought it’s not important”. To avoid teammates passing the blame on each other, a team leader has to voice agendas and expectations clearly (and repeatedly). Similarly, teammates should keep each other in the loop by sharing minutes of meeting and discussion pointers on the regular.
- Losing concentration and forgetting things is normal. If you only tell the team things once, it means people will only get one shot at processing and remembering that information. This strategy has dead ends — for one, it’s hard to get everyone to show up to every meeting. Also, attending and being “present” don’t necessarily align. By giving the team the benefit of the doubt and re-iterating the key points of past meetings, leaders give everyone an opportunity to successfully retain important ideas.
- We get lost with no direction. As groups of individuals with distinct personalities, teams often struggle to follow a common course of action. The truth is unless steered in one definite direction, each of your employees will move on different paths. To an extent, this autonomy creates a healthy influx of new ideas. However, to paraphrase the Byzantine Generals Problem, teams need a clear, orchestrated strategy to manage a crisis. Aligning a team’s personal goals to organizational vision is a leader’s job and a key objective of over-communication. Only through speaking up persistently, leaders will be able to transmit the rationale behind decisions and everyone on the team will reap from moving in the same direction.
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- Burn-out flags are easy to miss in silence. Letting teammates “do their own thing” is risky because team leaders lose the hunch for how stressed, overwhelmed, or unmotivated the top performers might be. Then blows like sudden resignations show up to put processes in jeopardy and add to the pile of things that cause the manager stress. Burnout is a quiet crisis — teammates can bottle frustrations up for months before speaking up. That’s why team leaders should be one step ahead and consistently check in on employees’ mental health using a solid internal communication strategy.
- Appreciation gets lost in translation. You feel like you are appreciative and supportive of your team. Chances are, these feelings don’t reach people on the team — statistically, 59% of employees feel undervalued at work. Over-communication is a way to let teammates know how much they mean to you and the organization as a whole. Don’t shy away from repeatedly praising an employee for a job well done. Similarly, it’s a good idea to re-iterate feedback — this way you make sure that the person this review is aimed at, takes the feedback in a positive light.
Over-Communicating Too Much? 5 Rules For Not Being an All-Talk Boss
There’s no “bad” timing for over-communication. However, that doesn’t redeem team leaders who shove peers in emails and redundant meetings.
The line between efficiently transmitting ideas and being an overbearing chatterbox is blurry. To make sure you don’t cross it, develop a set of guidelines you and other managers should follow when communicating with your teams.
These are 5 easy-to-follow tips that’ll help you level up project management with over-communication:
Tip #1. Keep communication a two-way street
Over-communication does not stand for being the only talker in the room. While leaders must speak up and articulate their vision clearly, it’s equally important to listen to others and build a task management system and an email architecture that encourages teammates to share thoughts.
Over time, project managers naturally arrive at the balance between talking and listening in meetings. If you struggle to use both equally efficiently, start tracking how much you speak and how much you let others talk.
Hack: when a teammate asks you a question, ask the rest of the team what they think about it after sharing your answer. This way, you’ll promote knowledge exchange and include everyone in the meeting.
Tip #2. Don’t kill the flow
Before you send an email or schedule a midday meeting, be mindful of teammates’ schedules. Ideally, you want to avoid distracting people when they are working on high-concentration tasks. Once they are out of the flow, refocusing will take effort and time (statistically, it takes 30 minutes to get back into the “zone”).
How can you combine communication and non-invasiveness? Leaders usually find balance by scheduling meetings in the morning — at the start of the workday, when no one on the team is engaged in a challenging task yet.
Hack: Use meeting scheduling software for planning so that meetings don’t show up on everyone’s calendars uninvited. By being consistent, you shape your workday and eliminate uncertainty from the team’s workflows.
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Tip #3. Keep meetings short
Catching up with your team face-to-face (even via Zoom) keeps everyone on the same page. Also, meetings and standup calls help teammates socialize or, at the very least, match each other’s names to faces. That’s why we are not in the “no conference calls” camp.
On the other hand, people hate dragged meetings for many reasons, namely:
- When we are stuck on a long conference call, our brains deplete glucose and oxygen. That’s why, by the end of the meeting, the ability to retain data is at its lowest.
- For 50% of Americans, long meetings are a huge time-sucker, cutting short the number of things the team can get done.
- No one is listening anyway. Reports show that 60% of meeting participants take notes to feign presence while 73% sort out work tasks during conference calls.
Statistically, a recommended meeting duration is 18 minutes. Feels short? To get things done this quickly, add these hacks to your routine:
- Have an agenda. Meetings will be shorter if you host them with one clear goal in mind. Whether it’s a discussion on the latest news in the company or monthly metrics review — agenda is always a must.
- Invite only decision-makers. This way, you won’t have to get people who don’t actively contribute to the project up to speed, wasting everyone’s time. If you want other teammates to stay in the loop, use a screen recorder to save the call and share it with others.
- Prepare for conclusive endings. When they don’t know how to wrap up a conversation, people tend to drag meetings. As a team leader, consider creating an efficient way to finish a talk. Three questions like: “What is your biggest takeaway from the meeting”, “What ideas should we discuss during the next meeting?”, and “Describe how you feel about the meeting in a sentence” will give conference calls a beautiful closure.
Tip #4. Make communication personal
Justin Rosenstein (the co-founder of Asana) once said something along the lines of:
“You spend a lot of time looking for amazing people — it’s worth helping them become the best versions of themselves”.
Nurturing talent and helping teammates mature under your guidance is the objective of one-on-one meetings. To not overwhelm yourself with a day full of 1-on-1s, spread them over a month. For example, on one day, you’ll spend thirty minutes or an hour catching up with a teammate.
To make the most out of personal sit-downs, schedule them in advance. This way, you give teammates time to prepare their questions, ideas, and feedback.
Hack: set a clear structure for one-on-one meetings. For example, you can start a session by asking a teammate several open-ended questions (“What’s on your mind”, “What has recently excited you?”, “What are you worried about?”).
These ice-breakers encourage team leaders to be considerate and let teammates steer the conversation in a comfortable direction. To help others share concerns, managers often use questions like “Name one thing that frustrated you at work recently”. By being direct, you inspire candor and openness within the team.
Tip #5. Don’t expect instant replies
In times of change or crisis, it’s easy to give in to panic. When important decisions are on the line, you might want to move ASAP.
But, as far as the team is concerned, life always gets in the way, so no one is unfailingly available exactly when you want them.
As you promote over-communication within the team, lead by example. Don’t expect teammates to reciprocate from Day 1 — be considerate of personal emergencies.
An excerpt from a 2010 research that proved the impact of gratitude in emails
If teammates keep ignoring emails and Slack texts, this could be a red flag for inefficient communication. Here are a few ways to make things better:
- Before asking a teammate for a favor, think: “What’s in it for them?”. Include incentives (interesting projects, promotions, an extra day off) in messages to motivate people to cooperate.
- Say “please” and “thank you”. As basic as it may sound, you might find yourself forgetting about basic politeness when there’s a lot going on in the team. A few words of appreciation and gratitude are simple but powerful ways to improve your writing show consideration to the team. Once valued, your peers will likely get at least a tad more cooperative.
- Validate teammates in front of executives. If you are reporting about your work to the CEO, it’s a good idea to give the rest of the team credit for individual contributions. Doing as much helps leaders make sure no one thinks you are using others to make yourself look good.
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The Bottom Line
Statistics and experience point managers to the idea that there’s no such thing as saying “too much”. Regularly syncing with teammates and articulating your vision clearly is key to efficient unified communication (especially for remote organizations).
As for considerations, keep in mind that overcommunication does not cancel clarity and verbal efficiency. Before you speak up, make sure your message is precise and easy to understand. Through efficient and consistent (over)communication, you will be able to keep everyone on the same page and build high-quality projects.
Andriy is a Growth Manager at Mailtrap, a product that helps people inspect and debug emails before sending them to real users. He has over 5 years of experience in the field of marketing & product. Andriy loves to network with people. Running is his hobby and he enjoys discovering new places. Connect with Andriy on Linkedin or Facebook and share your feedback on the article.
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Why Over-communication Matters for Project Management And 5 Tips For Doing It Right was originally published in ProofHub Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.