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01 Feb 2021

Mindless Overcommunication

Most managers-newcomers taught to overcommunicate if they want the team to see an important announcement.

Does your company change the org structure? Make sure to send the same message dozens of times across all available Slack channels. Don’t forget to DM everyone the same message too. Only then your job is done. People certainly saw the announcement. Also, they are certainly overwhelmed because of this shenanigan.

If you think about it, this is a literal definition of spam. Or, as I like to call it, the Mindless Overcommunication – send the same message everywhere, hoping people to notice. Why are we intolerant of spam in our inboxes, but not at the workplace?

There is a clear difference between Mindless and Mindful overcommunication.

The spectre of mindful and mindless overcommunication

Mindless overcommunication is a brute force. It’s like using a hammer to kill a fly. Mindful overcommunication is more elegant. Instead of sharing the same message, you try to provide more useful context for the specific recipient. In Mindful overcommunication, empathy comes first. You step into people’s shoes, trying to understand what information would be relevant for a reader.

Mindful Overcommunication tries to prevent problems. Mindless Overcommunication creates more of them.

No wonder Mindless Overcommunication is overused (no pun intended). It sounds compelling to leadership.

This whole approach is based on the false assumption that people always miss the first message. So repeating it over and over again seems like a solution. The surface solution. The one that doesn’t solve the root cause but fight the symptoms. Ironically the more the same message got re-shared – the more it’s ignored.

Why people missed the initial message? What if the time wasn’t right? What if there was so much irrelevant stuff, people didn’t want to waste time?

“But it’s impossible to adjust to everyone.” you might say. Impossible is an overstretch, I’d argue. It might take some time at first, but once you learned people’s preferences and information load, it gets easier. Rules like: “Not sending an announcement that you expect people to read while part of your remote team is sleeping.”. Or asking people’s preferences on when they’d like to receive information, goes a long way.

As numerous social media studies show, being bombarded with the information isn’t particularly good for our mental health. This is exactly the same for the workplace.

So if repeating the message doesn’t work, how do you get an important point across? Well, your communication has to start with empathy first. The empathy to recipients of the message.

  1. Do you know who exactly needs to see your message? I’m not talking about Slack channels here. Simply sending information to #general or #engineers doesn’t cut it. I’m talking about individuals. When you rely on channels to deliver the message you lose sight of people who are genuinely interested. They got mixed with those who can happily live without your message2.
  2. Can you clearly say what’s their motivation to read it? Choose individuals who are motivated to read your information. If their direct responsibility depends on that message, they will find the time to read it. Even if you shared it once.
  3. Do you speak the same language as people who will be reading your message? Let say engineers fixed a critical issue. Let the support team know about it by using their terms and context. For example: “Solved Zendesk ticket #000 for Customer A”, not “Fixed a critical bug.”.
  4. Are you aware of their work environment and preferences? If the person who needs to see your message is in another time zone, make sure you are sending the message at the time when it’s convenient to them.

In short, try to step into the shoes of people who will be reading the message. If you do this with respect, I guarantee they will find time to read the announcement. There is no need to send it over and over again.

Here are a few more articles on clear communication that might be useful to read: The on-demand communication fallacy and The Internal Release Notes dilemma, and what can we do about it?.

  1. The argument could be made that the recipient knows better what they need. But even if you segment the information solely based on your assumptions. It would already cut a significant portion of the time the receipt needs to spend to search for what’s important for them. 

  2. This doesn’t mean you have to restrict access to the original message. The information should be freely available so people could read it if they choose to, not because you’re forcing them. Present only the most relevant parts for a specific recipient, along with the link to the original info. 

Hey there, thanks for reading!

I hope you enjoyed the article. You can reach out via Twitter if you have any suggestions or feel like chatting about product development.

Next week article: Prioritization framework for your next integration.

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