There once was a fantastic manager whose performance critique from their boss consisted of only one word: brevity.
No, that manager wasn’t me. But it is a true story and certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to find on my annual review.
We all understand how critical it is to communicate with our stakeholders. We want our team to feel important and included, and to have all the information so they are empowered to make good decisions. Our sponsors and other executives should have the critical information at the right time. And our end users and extended team? Let them know what’s happening so they’re “with us” all the way.
But sometimes it’s hard to know when we’re going overboard.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- A five-minute update can regularly take twenty-five.
- A meeting that “shouldn’t take too long” goes the entire hour…plus a few minutes.
- There are five main slides stuffed with content in your presentation…and fourteen back-up slides.
- You put everything they need to know in your email…and get the most basic questions in response.
I am guilty of all of these. And I can name a dozen colleagues who do it, too.
So really, if we’re making sure we’re giving people all the information; how could there be any harm in it?
To answer that, let’s look again at the above cases:
- If you say an update will take five minutes, not only is your audience expecting five minutes, they may have re-scheduled if they knew it was going to take longer. But they’re trapped in the middle of the conversation and need to see it through.
- The same goes for a meeting. It’s hard to leave a meeting in the middle of a conversation. And if they do leave, they take with them a sense of frustration and unfinished business. And if you tell everyone the meeting will run short, they will be expecting some of their time back, even if it’s just five minutes to grab a water before their next meeting begins.
- A jam-packed slide deck is deadly. Each slide should contain useful information, but ask yourself: do you want your team to spend time reading a slide or listening to you? And what is in those fourteen backup slides? If your audience needs the data, should it be in the main presentation?
- Most emails don’t need a ton of background to evoke the intended response. It’s easy to miss the main point of a long, involved email.
Our teams (core, executive, extended) trust us to be respectful of their time and to deliver what we promise. In each of the above cases, we are wasting someone else’s time. More than that, we’re setting expectations and then not living up to them. But combine both—and do it repeatedly—then we’re starting to erode their trust.
How Do We Tell We’re Over-Communicating?
The result of over-communicating can be subtle. You’ll notice people start declining your meetings or aren’t available when you ping them for a quick update. They may stop reading your emails and instead send you a DM asking about the exact the subject you emailed them yesterday.
Let’s take a final look at our cases. A bit of review is usually all you need to dial it back to where it needs to be:
- Take a few extra minutes to craft a more succinct message in email—or preparing for that five-minute update.
- Unless there’s a very good reason for a meeting to run over, cut it off and make sure you do a better job estimating the time needed for each topic.
- Check your slides for the 3-5 bullet rule. More information than that and your audience can’t absorb the information. Be critical in your review: does your overall point get lost because there’s so much context?
- Read your email before you send it. If it requires a lot of explanation, maybe a phone call or meeting would be better—that way they can ask for additional information if they need it.
The focus on communicating the right amount of information helps you and your team get the job done. And it builds that foundation of trust so when you do find a meeting running over, they know it won’t become a pattern.