When Overcommunicating Can Do More Harm Than Good

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What would you guess is the biggest time waster in the office? Would you say that it’s meetings? Employee chatter? Surfing the Internet?

Actually, it’s email. Email is a time suck that we can’t stop thinking about every two minutes. In fact, we do it even more frequently -- the average employee checks his email 36 times per hour.

So how do you break off the inbox romance?

The key to maximizing your team’s productivity isn’t to communicate more -- it’s to communicate less with better techniques. Here’s how:

Think before you send.

Your first step toward effective office communication should be addressing your team’s email addiction. On average, we receive more than 300 business emails per week. It gets worse for business executives, who spend more than 1.5 hours per day poring over emails.

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Before you shrug your shoulders in defeat, know that it’s possible to battle the beast. IT services firm Atos declared a zero-email policy in 2011, and it’s on a mission to eliminate time wasted on internal communication among its nearly 93,000 employees spanning 72 countries. You don’t have to ban email but do ask your employees to think before sending. An email sent to the entire company can squander hundreds (or thousands) of employees’ time with one click.

Learn to communicate in person.

Sometimes, we bury our noses so deeply in our computers that we forget about the power of interpersonal communication. Before your team can communicate effectively through text (which lacks nonverbal cues and can cause unfortunate misinterpretations), make sure they can talk to each other.

It might sound pedantic, but it’s not -- your team needs to communicate in person about the touchiest, trickiest subjects. Play a game of “telephone” to find out how your team members listen to one another. Just like you did in elementary school, pass a message down the line. If it isn’t the message you started with -- and it probably isn’t -- your team should brush up on its verbal communication skills.

Ask for your team’s preferences.

It can be tough to know how your team is communicating in the trenches when you’re tucked away at your desk. Your best strategy for solving communication woes is actually very simple: just ask. Send out a survey about communication preferences before you make a decision for the team. Ask for comments so your team can offer feedback about what’s working and what isn’t.

When reviewing their responses, look for workarounds employees are using. For instance, employees might be texting each other to avoid burdensome email formalities. An internal instant message system could be great for internal questions, or a weekly call could allow your clients and teams to touch base without haphazard, inefficient emailing.

Related: Executives: Edit Your CEO-Targeted Communications to Get Better Results

Set expectations for everyone.

Set communication standards for your team from the start -- include expectations in the employee manual and discuss them on a team member’s first day. Your team wastes time trying to figure out what merits their response when expectations aren’t clear.

When I’m away from my iPhone for a few hours, the number of notifications I receive is overwhelming. Office communication can be the same way. If your team doesn’t know which communications are truly important, they’ll feel bombarded by emails, texts and messages they shouldn’t be stressing about.

Use meetings wisely.

Meetings are a close second to email in terms of time wasted. On average, employees attend 62 meetings per month and consider half of these meetings to be wasted time. However, meetings can be a powerful way to cut down on emails when used properly.

Get your team together in one place just once per week. When you address your entire staff at once, a few minutes is all it takes to get everyone up to speed for the week on topics ranging from company finances to policy changes.

When your company communicates efficiently, the difference is obvious: Teams are aligned, and work flows smoothly. People use appropriate channels for internal, as well as client, communications; when something is urgent, they know whom to contact and how. Don’t communicate more -- communicate smarter.

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