In my work life, I see all sorts of tips about how to work well with others, how to communicate effectively, how to manage my time (and help others manage theirs), and so on. Most of those tips are phrased as "don'ts"—stuff like:
Don't send an email when you could get up and talk to someone.
Don't interrupt someone by just going to talk to them. Schedule something.
Don't schedule/go to that meeting if you can just get/share the information by email.
OHMYGOODNESS! Don't send that email!
There are so many "don'ts" that I wonder what I'm supposed to do when a conversation actually needs to happen.
Yes, I know why all those tips are out there. We have information coming at us from all directions, there's more work than time, and it's impossible to focus on all of the new requests when we're still knee deep in the backlog. We're in a constant churn of ”I don't even want to think about my inbox.” That sure is a tweetable thought. Break time—let's see if there's George Takei post I can "like". What new video? KITTIES!
And then we realize that deadline's approaching at an unhealthy speed, we haven't prepared for that client presentation, and (oh, crap) it's end-of-the month reporting time! Better get down to business before those back-to-back meetings this afternoon.
So we "don't" in order to survive. We do it out of respect for people's time, because we know how little we all have.
In all of the pain and pressure of the always-on-always-connected world, we're starting to focus our efforts on not clogging inboxes, wasting precious moments, or interrupting workflows. That's important, but we're at risk of becoming disconnected to the point that we're not having those important conversations about growth, strategy, and next steps, because we've been told, "don't." Or if we are having those conversations, they may not be in the right forum or they may be getting shut down before they get to the right place, and we miss some opportunities for greatness in a growth-oriented business.
We can probably all agree that we need some more balance. That's really where the "don'ts" are trying to get us.
So often, we send emails to get thoughts out before we forget them, or set meetings to get others to share our accountability. We're treading water and taking care of ourselves, without thinking so much about the people we're communicating with, their time, and what they need to know in order to help.
What if, instead of focusing on the "don't" we were just more mindful of how we do try to communicate with one another? What if we just made sure every point of communication was based on intention (thinking things through and having a plan), understanding (being aware of others' time and needs), and respect (starting and ending on time or communicating in a way that works for the people on the other end)?
We Need to Talk
We're social beings, and we are capable of so much more together than alone. When it comes to communication at work, the point isn't that we "don't", but rather that we should do it smarter, more mindfully, and for the right reasons.