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Can We Over-Communicate?

While coaching a client the other day, I was asked the question, “How do I know if we’ve over-communicated?”

It was an interesting question for many reasons, not the least of which because I was working with someone who was actually so committed to communicating well with their team, they were concerned about crossing the line and perhaps becoming an annoyance by over-sharing.

Part of me wanted to shout ‘Halleluiah’! How nice to be working with yet another client who is taking communication to heart. Another part of me giggled at the irony of over-communicating, as I shared with them the reality that in all my years working in this area, I have yet to see an example of overcommunication. Research has shown that on average it takes seven exposures to a message for us to remember it, so the chances of over-communicating are low, especially with all the noise and competition for attention we encounter in a day.

That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to the source, tone, pace, and overall quality of your team communications that can help you make the most effective and positive impact.

1. Consider the Sources

Although it’s highly unlikely that you can over-communicate with your team when you’re implementing a project, there is a chance that team members can be overwhelmed if there are multiple sources shooting messages at them at the same time you are.

I’m not talking about a CEO sharing a supporting or reinforcing message during a town hall. I’m referring to another manager or peer sending out regular messages to your team about the project that is not coordinated with your own. And that although they may have the best intentions, they can end up muddying the waters.

There should be one main source of information that your team can recognize as the authority and can ask questions of if they need to clarify anything. Having more than one source just adds complexity and the risk of misunderstanding the key messages.

2. Think Like Your Audience

There’s a reason we design our messaging to match our audience. We need to consider where their heads are at, what’s going on in their day-to-day lives at work (and sometimes beyond) in order to predict or understand how they might interpret and respond to our messages.

Are they being inundated by multiple projects or demands on their time? Are they short-staffed and carrying the loads of other team members? Are they supportive of this effort that you are heading up, or is there lingering resistance for some reason? Whatever the situation might be, it’s important that you consider how your message could be positioned to be most sensitive to their situation and increase the likelihood of their supportive action.

This is where it’s critical to continue to reinforce the ‘why’ behind your effort. Consistently connecting the dots about the desired outcome of their participation and how it will further the overall mission of the organization is motivating, especially if that connection isn’t an obvious one.

3. Align Your Timing and Subjects to Action

The beginning of a project should be about creating context; the ‘why’ this is happening- its importance, its impact, and the desired outcomes. The messaging should generally be about building understanding and consensus, as much as possible.

As the project or initiative moves ahead, the pace of the action will increase and so should the pace of the messaging. Building context now transitions into the details of implementation. The ‘why’ can still underpin things, but communicating now should be focused on the ‘how’, giving people what they need to know in order to do their part.

And once the implementation is in place or complete, things will slow down again. But it’s important that your messaging provides a bookend to the action. Don’t forget to acknowledge what’s been achieved, its impact, and the effort your team has made. They are now a part of the story and context for the next steps.

4. Make Your Messages Valuable

Likely one of the most important things about your communication is that it provides value. People don’t need or appreciate more noise.

Whatever you share must be relevant to your audience. It should give them the information they need to know clearly and concisely, so they don’t have to waste time trying to interpret what you’re saying. The quality of your communication will affect your team in a much more positive way, than the quantity. Say what you mean, so you minimize the risk of misinterpretation.

If possible, include something of direct value. For example, organize project documentation in one easy-to-access place and provide a link that will take them there. We’re much more likely to review a schedule if we can click once and we’re there than if we have to sort through drives and folders.

And lastly, make sure that you encourage and provide the opportunity for two-way conversations. Listening is just as important, if not more, than providing information. So, make sure your communicating is not just made up of emails. Make time for group conversations whenever you can, as well as checking in with one-on-one chats. Once those relationships are established, you’re much more likely to hear what you need to because the barriers already will have been removed.

So, in the big scheme of things, don’t worry about communicating too much. Pay attention to ‘how well’ instead. And just a note, that although these tips are written for project communication, they are best practices that can strengthen organizational communication too. 😊

Overcommunicate. It's better to tell someone something they already know than to not tell them something they needed to hear.

Alex Irvine


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