A few months ago I wrote a post about the essential skills needed by today’s workforce. The most prominent one of these is communication. The irony of today’s always-on, interconnected world is that we are slowly losing our ability to communicate effectively with each other. Part of this is due to the many different communication products we have at our disposal. Good communication is essential to creating a smooth process for all of our projects, and it’s key to keeping our clients updated and their projects on track. Successful communication requires a mixture of email, meetings, documents, and conversations. So, we wanted to share our do’s and don’ts on how to best communicate with each other:
When to send an email
Email is great for project updates, a quick back and forth, scheduling time, or a one-to-few conversation. While everyone moans about the state of their inbox, it’s still the primary method of communicating in most workplaces. A lot of email programs also allow you to do scheduled sends, which allows you to control when a message goes out to the recipients. We send weekly wrap up emails on our more detailed, long-term projects to update a large team on the status of various items. If we sent updates on each portion separately, we’d flood people’s inboxes with so much email they wouldn’t read it!
DO: Keep it concise and make any CTAs clear. If you need people to give feedback or respond to a question by a certain date, consider bolding or coloring things to draw attention to them.
DO: Consider your tone of voice before sending. Intent can be mistaken by the reader, so make sure that you’re not inadvertently writing in a passive-aggressive or hostile tone.
DO: Make sure you are spell-checking everything before you hit send. Sloppy emails reflect poorly on you, if only for a moment.
DON’T: Try to get consensus. The reply-all button is your enemy in these cases. If 10 people are copied on an email and you ask them to come to an agreement, the chain will become unwieldy very quickly. It will also clog people’s inboxes, and irritate them as they try to figure out who has what opinion.
DON’T: Use email as a replacement for texting or instant messaging. No one wants 5 emails in a row from you that all start with “Oh and one more thing…” But remember – if you are making a quick decision via text, it can be hard to find that specific decision later on, because texts aren’t as searchable as email.
When to meet in person
Meetings are essential, and while the in-person kind is still my preference, more and more we are meeting with our clients on Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other video-conferencing services. Meetings are great for things like project kickoffs, brainstorm sessions, consensus building, or in-depth information delivery. It gives everyone a chance to get into the same room and agree on an approach to the project at hand, or to discuss the nuance necessary to handle a problem. It also allows you to have a personal touch and let your personality shine through, which can be lost when we rely solely on email or texts.
DO: Have an agenda and stick to it! If you don’t have a specific purpose to your meeting, you probably shouldn’t be having a meeting. Then make sure to articulate the goals of the meeting when you open it, to help keep everyone on task.
DO: Send a follow-up with notes and to-dos immediately after the meeting. This allows everyone to fully understand the next steps.
DON’T: Pack your meeting with too many stakeholders. Unless absolutely necessary, meetings should be kept to the lowest amount of people possible for you to get the information you need. If you need to have a large meeting, make sure you send out a detailed agenda ahead of time to ensure attendees can come with specific questions or concerns already in mind.
DON’T: Use a meeting to relay the information you sent in an email. Meetings that regurgitate the contents of an email are a waste of people’s time.
When to create a document
Documents like scripts, schedules, or call-sheets are necessary to convey a lot of detailed information to your stakeholders. We use Google Docs, as they allow collaboration and task-assignment in a way that prevents versioning disasters. These are living items that change and evolve over time, but they also serve as useful historical repositories of a project. And, once you have a format you like, they are easily templatized and re-used for future work!
DO: Make sure you have a naming convention and organization system figured out ahead of time. Everyone involved in the project should be able to find every document they’re looking for with a minimum of fuss.
DO: Assign notes or comments to specific people so they can track their to-dos. And be sure to resolve them as soon as they’re done.
DON’T: Pack too much or too little into one document. Consider the document’s purpose before adding to it or creating a new one, to ensure a logical distribution of information.
When to pick up the phone
While this has become almost synonymous with meetings, it’s actually quite different. Whether it’s on the telephone or in a video conference, this is the one you pull out when you need to have a one-on-one conversation about something. It’s possible this is necessary to clarify a task you’ve been asked to do in an email. However, it’s more likely these are difficult, nuanced discussions you need to have about things like budget overruns, schedule mishaps, or mismanaged expectations about a piece of creative material. I’ll often get on the phone with an editor to help them understand the first round of notes given by our client, to ensure they understand everything they need to incorporate. These should be used to carefully handle situations that could be tense or stressful.
DO: Be honest, direct, and simple. Prevarications or excuses aren’t professional, and neither is throwing blame around.
DO: Remember to listen closely. You may have initiated the conversation, but the other person might not know anything about the issue you’re raising. Listen to what they say, as well as to their tone and mood (and even their body language if you’re on a video call). This will help you elicit the response you’re hoping for.
DON’T: Be afraid. For some reason, our society has really grown afraid of talking to each other face to face. Remember that everyone is human, and likely more forgiving than you expect. A personal touch will go a long way.
DON’T: Send an email about it instead. I guarantee you this will cause more problems than it’s worth.
At Edios Media we pride ourselves on our strong communication skills. Whether it’s with each other, with our clients, or with our crews, we want everyone to know what’s happening on a particular project, and how they fit into it at each stage. The better you are at communication, the more likely you’ll deliver projects on time and on budget, to happy clients!
Elizabeth Madariaga, Co-founder & Executive Producer, Edios Media