One could argue that by now we all know communication is important. That it’s paramount to well-run and tight knit teams and organizations. Somehow, though, what makes for good communication doesn’t seem to be as well known or well defined. If it were, there’d be a dearth of books on the subject and I’d not be writing this post. So it is that I offer my opinion on one way to address the problem of what makes for good communication: you need to over-communicate.
What does it mean to over-communicate? What does it look like? Let’s start by stating what it is not:
- It is not an incoherent stream-of-consciousness treatise with no apparent beginning, middle, or end.
- It is not a diary of every single thing you’ve done or experienced in the past day.
- It is not a long manifesto that no one will ever read.
- It is not standing in someone’s cube asking if they saw the Post-it note about the email you sent 5 minutes ago.
Over-communicating is about telling a story. Your story.
Be a Storyteller
Find the interesting things about what you want to share and tell a short story about them. I often find it useful to write out everything I can about a subject, whittle it down to the essentials, and write a brief summary. If I feel it’s necessary, I’ll add in details for more context.
Also, while it may seem kitsch, in keeping with this post’s theme, there are a few different types of stories one can tell.
These are really short stories about something you recently discovered or learned, and think your team might find useful. Think of these as TIL (Today I Learned) stories.
You’ve had a major win or completed a grueling debug session. Whatever it is, it feels big and you want to share it with everyone.
One of my favorites, this is a story that takes place over time. It’s often related to a big project. You start by laying out a plan, including what you’re working on and how long you expect it to take. You may be working with other teams.
As work progresses, you send out regular updates. Readers see the characters develop and experience all the successes and setbacks throughout the project. This story engages people because they anticipate the next update, wondering how the week shapes up for our leads.
A side benefit of this type of story is that once you’ve written a few of them, you start to think of projects in manageable, easily consumable (therefore doable) chunks. This story type helps reinforce some planning on your part because you’ll want to demonstrate progress. When readers have a roadmap, it helps them not only see where you’re going, but how far you’ve come.
Multimedia and Repetition
It is not enough to tell your story once. You need to find and understand your potential audience. This means telling your story in various media such as face-to-face, email, IRC, blog, wiki, etc. You’ll repeat your story across these media as you deem appropriate. Sometimes you’ll write a blog post and point folks to it via Twitter. Sometimes you’ll distill your blockbuster into an anecdote in IRC because the conversation is relevant to a project you’ve worked on. You may even speak at a conference on a given topic. In every case you are telling your story to as wide an audience as possible.
And all of it is worthwhile effort.
You will never have a perfect audience when you tell your story. This is because you cannot have everyone in attendance, nor will you always have everyone’s complete attention. They may not subscribe to your media of choice. They may, in fact subscribe, but choose to ignore a stream for periods of time (i.e. to get work done). They may be physically present when you tell your story but have their focus somewhere else. They could just be busy and miss it.
On a side note, if you are a remote employee, you really have to hone your storytelling skill. Because you are not face-to-face with your peers in the office, the way you communicate and the frequency with which you do becomes your proxy. Take special care to practice telling your story.
Over-communication is not about a constant stream of information, nor is it about raising the volume of content. It’s about telling your story as often and in as many media as necessary to have it heard.