4 Tips To Help Leaders Attack Overcommunication

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The best leaders know that being engaged in their company’s day-to-day activities is vital to its success. Recognizing the need to being “in the know,” we have all begun utilizing a plethora of communication tools. Email, texting, phone calls, video chats, and project software such as Basecamp and Slack all help us stay aware and in touch with our teams. However, the rapid implementation of these tools has created a different problem – overcommunication.

As an advisor to leadership teams, I increasingly hear the issues around overcommunication, particularly as they invade our personal space and time.  I recently returned to New York from Los Angeles, and when I turned off airplane mode, found that I had 10 voice mails, 87 emails, and 17 texts – in 5 ½ hours. That’s insane. Now clearly, they were all not critical, and in truth, many were not even important. But I did need to look and listen to all of them to decide which ones were – and that in itself took time. This deluge of overcommunication has a few unintended consequences. It creates enormous frustration to both the sender and recipient, delays responses, and in some cases creates mistakes.

Several weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Gerald, the CEO of a publishing company. He was suffering from a chronic case of overcommunication. In fact, even as we were speaking with each other, I heard his cell phone buzzing in his pocket. With every new notification, Gerald’s stress level spiked a little bit more, and I told him to turn off his phone and gave him these four tips to better control his communications:

1. Establish a preferred communication channel within your company. Instead of having a variety of tools to communicate, specify whether phone, email or text is the primary channel.  Explain to your team that in order for them to get a quick response, they should only use the designated method. Regardless of which channel you choose, you need to audit whether it is working and stick with it.

2. Establish communication time boundaries.  Except in cases of real emergencies, which fortunately are infrequent, you need to designate some time brackets where it is totally acceptable for people to be “off the grid.”  As a leader, you will need to discuss this with your team and decide together whether this includes dinner time, holidays, portions of weekends, etc. Everyone will be appreciative and be able to respond when they get back on the grid.

3. Reduce Multiple Notifications. I’ve observed that the proliferation of bcc and group texts has grown the volume of my communications exponentially.  Every time someone responds “reply all,” it generates another 15 messages, each of which will generate additional responses.   While you cannot ban this practice, you need to define some basic rules that dramatically curtail this practice.  This recommendation alone will dramatically reduce volumes of email and texts. You can also turn off several notification tabs on your phone to prevent messages from appearing on your screen, creating further distractions.

4. Prioritize. Create your own process for how and when you check your messages. Don’t look at your phone under the table while you are in meetings because you are then not fully present for that discussion.   Try to set several times a day to check your messages – respond quickly and thoughtfully, returning to what you were doing with full attention now that they have been resolved. Of course, when an emergency happens, you need to handle it immediately – but again, 99% of what you are dealing with are not emergencies.

The big problem with overcommunication using these technology tools isn’t just that it’s annoying. It actually inhibits performance. Take a fresh look at how your organization communicates, implement these 4 tips, and see how much more effectively your organization will operate.

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