Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to get a message through to your remote and hybrid team members?
- “I told them.”
- “I put it in an email last week.”
- “I know this meeting could have been an email. But nobody reads the darned emails! Then we have to have the meeting anyway.”
It can be frustrating when you spend time delivering a message, only to feel like people intentionally disregarded it. It’s possible that nobody is paying attention. More likely, it’s because you, as the sender of the message, only did part of your job.
Communication isn’t just transmitting the facts. There are actually three steps to real communication, and unless you factor them all in, there’s a pretty good chance your message won’t be effective.
The three factors are: message sent, message received, message understood.
Sending the message
First, what’s the message you want to send? To whom? What’s the best way to deliver it: Email? Text? Go old-school and use the phone? An unclear message isn’t going to be effective. A clear message sent to the wrong audience probably won’t do much better. And using the wrong medium for the message may give people a false idea of how important it is, or might not catch their attention in the first place. Clarity, focus, and effective transmission will help you send the message. That should do it, right?
Receiving the message
Once you send the message into the world, you’ve lost control of it. You can’t MAKE someone pay attention. You can’t tie them to a chair and force them to put down their phone and focus (That may be tempting, but it’s against almost all HR policies). The other person has to be open to receiving the message. While you can’t guarantee it will be received, you can increase the chances of success. Does the receiver know what the message is about? What is your relationship with them? How do they like to receive information? And what else is going on in their world that might distract from your message?
There are ways to help overcome some of these hurdles if we stop and think before sending the message. Will the subject line of the email catch their eye and stand out from the rest of their inbox? Does the message give an appropriate sense of urgency? Are the consequences of not receiving or acting on the message clear so people will make it a priority? Maybe.
Ensuring they understand the message
This factor is also out of your direct control, but when the communication is important, it’s not a great idea to “set it and forget it.” Rich communication such as face to face meetings, allows you to gauge the reaction to your message. When their nose crinkles in disgust, or they look at you like they have three heads, you can tell there is a problem. Maybe the message wasn’t as clear as you thought. Maybe you misjudged how it would be received and have to scramble to ensure clarity. Often, people don’t know what to do with the information you’ve sent, so you get no response at all.
Ask people to acknowledge the message. Follow up to see if there’s any misunderstanding or questions, and help the receiver understand the stakes involved. There is a lot competing for people’s attention. If people don’t care, they won’t put much effort into really understanding your communication.
A good way to plan for better communication is to go through the process in reverse. If you understand how to get their attention, and what will make them respond, you can send the message in a way that will cut through the noise. Once you understand what will give you the best chance of success, you can plan with the end in mind.
Sending a good message is important, but it’s only one-third of the communication process.
Check out these courses that can help you and your team become experts at remote communication.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.