As a manager, and someone who has to communicate across teams, I have been giving a lot of thought to how people can communicate more efficiently. Even at a very low level, understanding how you communicate and what makes communication better can pay huge dividends.
On making clear requests
Do: Make what you’re of someone clear, obvious and impossible to miss
Don’t: Spew a bunch information and assume that they will infer what your request is
The problem is that when you write a long email or other written communication and you share a bunch of information, and you just say it. And you’re expecting the recipient to implicitly understand what you’re asking them to do. This is something that I see over and over again, and at varying levels of seniority. Sometimes executives are the most guilty of this.
For example, if you sent an email like this;
The servers are running at uneven utilizations. Some are running at less that 10% utilization while others are running at over 90%.
This kind of communication can lead to lots of problems:
- You’re placing the decision of what to do with that information on the recipient. Decisions are taxing enough, and we all have plenty of them to make every day. Don’t pile one more on the recipient because you can’t formulate a question. You’re just going to make them annoyed, and less likely to do what you actually need them to do.
- By not making your request clear, the person could take this information and interpret it in a wildly different way that you don’t (and likely won’t) anticipate. They might interpret something like this as an emergency situation when it’s not intended that way.
- The likelihood of getting what you need out of this kind of communication is tied directly to how strong of a relationship that you have with a person. This might work between spouses, but doubtful it be effective across teams in a workplace.
What is the person who gets that supposed to do with that information? That is what you need to spell out. Imagine if you got this instead:
The servers are running at uneven utilizations. Some are running at less that 10% utilization while others are running at over 90%. Are you aware of any mechanisms offered by our provider that will allow us to more evenly spread the load, and if so what are they?
Notice, several key details are clear:
- Who is to answer the question (in this case, “you”, not someone else)
- Are they aware specific solutions to this problem (which is a yes/no question)
- If they do know of solutions, what are they? This is deliberately called out separately from the previous point of do they know.
- This also makes it clear that you’re looking for information, and not asking them to solve your particular problem
Use formatting tools at your disposal to make you communication more scannable. Use bold and italic text intentionally to draw attention to your main points.
Writing somewhere that doesn’t have bold? Use **asterisks** instead to draw attention to the main point.
Can you put your request first?
Consider the order of communication. Can your question come first, before the background information?
Are you aware of any mechanisms offered by our provider that will allow us to more evenly spread the load on our servers, and if so what are they? The servers are running at uneven utilizations. Some are running at less that 10% utilization while others are running at over 90%.
I had to tweak the first sentence in order for it to make sense, but putting the actual request first will always increase the likelihood that you will get the desired response.