By Jane Qiu, the co-founder of Kintell, a one-to-one video advice platform. She has a Ph.D. in international management.
Communicating with your team can be a minefield. One misstep, and you’ve set off an explosion that could have serious consequences for your relationships with your team and the business as a whole.
Luckily, if you can identify the hazards before you step out, you’ll not only navigate tricky situations safely, but your whole team will also be more connected and productive. So what are the biggest bombs-in-waiting to avoid, and how can you get your comms back on track?
The Hazard: Getting Sensitive On Slack
Or email or text. Having difficult conversations can be scary, but having them in written form can be even worse. Even if someone writes with good intentions — say, wanting to avoid embarrassment or conflict — it can so often blow up. Without immediate answers and the tone and gesture cues of a face-to-face conversation, it’s easy for people to misread well-meant efforts and get angry or emotional as a result.
The Solution: Knowing which channel to use is tricky, but it all comes down to understanding the situation’s level of emotional and logical complexity. Is the topic something that could set off emotions (e.g., a performance issue that may make a team member feel defensive), or is it straightforward? Are you dealing with a simple issue, or is it more complex?
I’ve developed a matrix for how I choose to communicate with my team:
In the figure above, you can see when both emotional complexity and logical complexity are high, prioritize a communication style that will allow you to really connect with the person. When both are low, you can safely use email or Slack — well, you can see the matrix!
Try using this next time you need to communicate with your team and see how it helps keep emotional conversations in the right place.
The Hazard: A Culture Of Instant Replies
We’ve come to expect that our messages will get responses instantly — and that includes in organizations (think answering emails after work hours or answering your calls 24/7). While this can be great for quick action, it’s also pretty toxic: If you’re always responding to mundane operational stuff, you never create the time for strategic thinking or mindful conversation.
The Solution: Build cultures that make shutting off OK. Encourage your team to block out time for deep thinking every week, and let them know it’s OK to not respond unless it’s an emergency. Sure, when you’re dealing with a complex issue, you may need to go back and forth quickly. But you have to be careful not to bring that level of responsiveness to all your comms — otherwise, you’ll squeeze out the space everyone needs for strategic thinking.
The Hazard: Information Overload
Think back to the last time you felt really overwhelmed in a meeting. It was probably when someone tried to cram so much info into your head that you could barely take any of it in. Whether it’s inducting someone, handing over a project or training, information overload gets in the way of effectively transferring knowledge.
The Solution: Consider everything you need to communicate and break it into bite-sized chunks. Let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to go into partnership with another business. You could send out a video that outlines the situation before emailing the team some questions to ponder and the contract to read and absorb. Then you might discuss the more emotional aspects in a meeting — say, why the team could be upset by certain items in the contract. Afterward, you can follow up in Slack to make sure everyone’s on the same page. The result? A far less overwhelming meeting.
The Hazard: Using The Same Communication Style For Everyone
In any team, you’ll likely get a diverse mix of personalities. So why do we assume that everyone will respond well to the same kind of communication? While an extrovert may love brainstorming in groups and having a meeting for everything, you likely won’t get the best out of your introverts if you’re constantly forcing them to communicate in a way that drains their energy.
Solution: There are two ways you can communicate: in a synchronous way (at the same time as the other person, such as in a phone call) or in an asynchronous way (such as via email, where the receiver can respond at a different time). Recognize who among your team will cope better with the different methods, and then test out the best mix of the two.
The Trap: Zoom Fatigue
We’ve all felt it at some point in the past year — that exhaustion that comes from being on video calls for hours at a time. We have a global team and identified quickly that having frequent meetings with a team in different time zones just didn’t work, both because of the challenge of getting everyone on at the same time and because we were so tired of being on Zoom.
The Solution: By implementing a mix of other kinds of communication (e.g., Drift, Slack, Asana), we’ve become more productive while still keeping the team engaged and on track. Ask yourself, “Do we need to meet?” before every meeting, and switch to a different form of communication if the answer is no. Remember that synchronous communication should be a luxury, so time it for when you most need it.
We all want to build businesses that are productive, but we also want to build great cultures. Mastering your workplace communication is one of the most effective ways to achieve both. If we can make conscious decisions about how and where we communicate, we can build better relationships with our team while still saving the time and resources that allow us to run more productive businesses.