I heard a term this week that lawyers will immediately recognize but for an engineer like me, it was new. It’s a term used in legal contracts: “…for the avoidance of doubt”. I heard that and thought, what a great way to communicate the need for clarity on a particular topic.
When we communicate there are things that are serious enough to demand the communicator goes the extra mile to ensure the “avoidance of doubt”. It is not the responsibility of the one being “communicated to” – they may not know they are about to miss a point. The onus is upon the communication pitcher not the communication catcher to ensure the point is received.
Now apply this concept to your day to day. How many emails, phone calls, meetings, and hallway conversations do you have in a given week? And in that fast paced world, how do we avoid doubt when communicating something serious?
Here are some actions I’ve used to when communicating something where “for the avoidance of doubt” is needed:
- Have the receiver repeat the message back to you
- Use multiple formats – words, pictures, graphs, verbal, or charts
- Approach the subject from more than one direction
- Explore “what ifs” ensuring the intent and motive are as clear as the content provided. Knowing ‘why’ enables people to execute to the goal and not just compliance to the direction given
- Discern which topics need the avoidance of doubt
- Own the communication. You’re the “Pitcher” – Pitch in a way they can catch
I’m sure there are more actions you can take besides these and yours may vary due to your work environment. Yet the idea remains the same. You want to communicate in a way “…for the avoidance of doubt”.
Here’s an email quiz for you. Sorry, there are no bonus points for the “right” answer…but your team will thank you. And since I only have one question on the quiz…. this should be pretty easy for you.
Are you the kind of person who:
A) Automatically hits “reply” to an email
B) Automatically hits “reply all” to an email
C) Contemplates who should receive the email, adding/deleting folks as appropriate before sending any reply
If you said “C” I would have to admit that’s my category as well. However, I struggle at times in who I decide to add or delete. Adding people means long bulky email streams are born (and take on a life of their own). Removing people means someone will lose the conversation stream.
Everyone talks about email etiquette but since I’m an engineer I’d like to talk about email logic. What’s the flowchart in your mind’s eye that you walk through for every email that comes across your screen? Do you have a process? For me, here are some of my internal checkpoints I use that may help you the next time you are deciding who to add or delete from an email chain:
Are only the people I’m communicating with directly on this email?
If your CCs: outnumber your TOs: you may need to rethink your communication strategy. Who really needs this information?
Is this an INTERNAL or EXTERNAL email?
In no circumstance should a supplier or customer be copied on an INTERNAL email. As people respond and “add on”, they may not keep track if the email trail is an INTERNAL or EXTERNAL conversation. Admittedly it can get blurry when you’re in a hurry. So take a breath. Keep communication with EXTERNAL business partners separate from INTERNAL only conversations. Keep EXTERNAL in the TO: line of the email. If something is internal only – label it INTERNAL in the subject line.
Who needs this information?
Take the time to ensure your “Reply All” response is appropriate for the reply – check for confidentiality, internal/external considerations, or level of details that maybe only a few need to know. Take the time to think about if additional people need to know. Maybe the originator did not realize someone else was working on the same thing.
And finally, here’s one that I like to call, “The Jeff Foxworthy* Test”… “If you’re email message is shorter than the list of people it’s going to, yoooouu may be an email rubber stamper.” If this is the case you may want to consider using the blind copy option. There are times a group distribution is needed. Why make everyone scroll down through 50 names to read a couple sentences.
There you have it. My little “Email Flowchart” logic on how I process emails. I’m curious what checks/balances you use in your Email flow. Feel free to comment below and let’s help each other out. Thanks.
*Sorry but I can just hear his voice, hence my name for it.
Is your prose filled with typos? Spellcheck is FREE. Use it.
We have been talking about culture and its influencers. The next one I would like to explore is “electronic communication”.
While I’m sure there are written “rules of engagement” for smart phone usage somewhere on the internet, there are some behaviors that seem to jump to the top of my list of “not-to-do” because they feel somewhat disrespectful.
Of course, we will not all agree on what warrants “disrespect” and we will each have different opinions from my list below. So I hope you take the time to add a few pet peeves of your own in the comment section.
The point of my list is to hopefully get you thinking — I only ask that you consider the impression the behavior gives or how it makes the other person feel as you use “electronic communication”.
Remember, this is all about culture and what drives culture – not efficiencies. It is about how we are treating others, the examples we are giving as leaders and how we are perceived by our teammates.
1. Fiddling on your smart phone at a meeting. Arrrgh!!
- If you have not told people you are taking notes while they are talking (instead of using paper), they will assume you are not paying attention.
- They can be put out since they prepared to present and you are not listening, why did they bother
- They could assume you are not doing work, sending the impression that you are not dedicated
- They could assume you are doing work, and that their work is not important. Thus, why should they care to engage
- If you have told people you are taking notes – they will know that you value their input and the work they do
- If you have to keep an eye on texts or emails – be respectful. Tell everyone that you are waiting for something – and apologize for the disruption. Their time is valuable also.
2. Answering the phone when someone is talking to you.
- If you are waiting for an important call, or are in a job that requires immediately answering – be polite and tell people they may be interrupted
- If people know that an important call is coming in, they will be more understanding
- The person speaking to you believes they are should get your attention. You wouldn’t let just anyone walking by interrupt, why do you let the phone?
- The great thing about phones is that they all have voicemail. Most (not all) but most phone calls can be handled right after your conversation with the person in front of you
- If you are in a meeting and the phone rings, AND you have to take it – step out of the room. Staying in the room just disrupts everyone
3. Texting is a great, fast way to tell someone something – better than a phone call as it is quick and easily readable in meetings – if done quietly and respectfully
4. Emails are great for basic information sharing – they are not great for complex discussions. Face to face are the best.
- Don’t copy the “world”, but do copy anyone that needs to know the basic information. You need to be intentional on “who”
- Use emails for “summing” up conversations or minutes from meetings – they can be great historical documents
5. Whether texting, emailing, twittering or other – remember it is still the written word. There is no body language or voice inflection to give context. You have to use the right words and enough of them for clarity.
Culture is all about people’s behaviors. Behavior is driven by what people think about each other. How they communicate with each other can change cultural norms for the better or for the worse. Electronic communication, used correctly, can help create healthy business cultures. When in doubt, the rule of thumb should be:
- Show respect to those around you when using your electronic devices.
- Be intentional with the communication you do over the device.
- When possible, communicate in-person complex issues.