People often forget that we do not communicate for ourselves, but for our audience. The best communicators remember this, and therefore meet their audiences’ expectations. But expectations for how to communicate have become complicated, as we’ll discuss, and the transparent communication that is essential to high performing teams may suffer as a result. Let’s take a look at some of these challenges.
Knowing our audience’s expectations used to be relatively simple: we had to respond to emails on time, keep our calendars up to date, check and respond to our voicemails, and have some system of following up with people. Overachievers might have even changed their voicemails when they went on vacation.
But a lot has changed. Technology provides employees with increasing communication tools. We can text, we can Skype, we can email, we can Google Hangout, we can FaceTime, we can Slack, we can call a direct line or a cell phone. And we do. We do all of these at Vantage on a daily basis. And the space is getting more crowded every day.
So, why are all of these new options not helping us be better communicators?
Problem 1: It’s hard to know what others need.
Others’ expectations depend on the technological choices they have made. In other words, what people are used to in their own approach is what they tend to expect from others. When we fail to meet their communication needs, our ability to maintain trust, cohesion, and clarity takes a hit.
However, it’s hard to know these expectations because nobody talks about it or even notices when their own expectations change. Likewise, we are constantly presented with more options, and are changing our approach.
Indeed, meeting others’ expectations is becoming too dynamic to anticipate. Some might think the logical next step would be to keep it simple and to avoid making any changes, but that leads us straight to problem two.
Problem 2: Passive siloing.
Unfortunately, sitting back to watch the chaos unfold is not a solution. If we are not changing the way we do things, it’s still the case that everyone else is. And if others are changing their approach, their expectations are changing as well.
Failure to actively address these changes results in something we could call “passive siloing”, or involuntarily being seen by others as secretive, unclear, or isolated due to inaction. If we are not actively attempting to re-learn and meet others’ expectations, we will necessarily fail to communicate with them effectively.
Passive siloing carries serious risks. Especially within teams, as individuals could be less likely to be in alignment in terms of priorities, have good coordination, or openly share information. On the extreme end, leaders might be resented for lack of transparency. And, because of the unintentional nature of passive siloing, ambiguity makes communication challenges even worse.
This is perhaps the most ironic learning: when employees are provided with lots of options or freedom in choosing how they communicate, the sharing of information on a case-by-case basis might be easier or happen more quickly, but the sharing of information to a larger collective gets exceedingly difficult as everyone is talking on different channels.
So, to recap, technology has created a plethora of different communication channels, everyone has their own unique preferences for which channel to use when, these preferences are changing all the time, and ignoring the problem actually makes the situation worse.
How to Get Back to Transparent Communication
In order for team leaders to be effective in this new environment, it’s worth considering the following solutions.
1. Set expectations for which channels are used when.
Teams need to start streamlining not only what people communicate but the way people communicate. Streamline what types of calendars your team is using and what information is to be included in them. Streamline other boundaries like immediacy of responding after work hours and what technology to use when editing documents that are shared with the group. If you get important communication channels decided on, at least there is a space for open communication to exist.
2. Communicate about communication.
Consider this “meta-communicating” – and it should be done more often than you would think. Team leaders should incorporate conversations about communication tools into meetings and discussions on a regular basis. As communication channels and preferences are proliferating all the time, this is a proactive attempt to acknowledge the dynamic, constantly changing communication decisions you and your team must make on a regular basis.
Do you have any lessons-learned about these communication challenges?
What should our new communication best-practices look like?
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