3 Steps to Better Internal Communication

07-29-20 Naomi Leak

Instant messaging or emailing with team members can be confusing and unclear. Learn 3 keys to shorter, clearer, and more pleasant communication.

You know how when you applied for your job, the listing had a ton of requirements? And one of those was “strong communication skills” or something like that. What does that even mean? It sounds so vague. Then you got the job, and you suddenly started getting confusing messages or emails all the time.

Imagine you’re sitting at your desk, engrossed in work, and you hear the loud “ding!” notifying you of a new message. You look up from your work and see the following, inspired message:

“Did you the image thing? You have to finish on that today before the luunch tomorrow.”

Consider what this could mean. You are currently working on three different projects with this coworker—all of them include images. So which project could this mean? What needs to be done with the images? “Finish on that” is not particularly clear, but we could assume they probably mean “work on that.” Does it just need to be worked on today? Or does this need to be done today? Or just before lunch tomorrow? “The luunch?” Is there a lunch meeting tomorrow you didn’t know about? And again, what is the thing that needs to be done?

Your response will now have to be something broad, like “Can you explain a little more? Which project are we talking about?” Meaning the conversation will need to backtrack and take more time than necessary to really be effective and come to a resolution.

While you can’t control how your coworkers communicate, you can improve your own communication skills for quick, effective conversations. Let’s take a look at three principles for clear communication, using this coworker’s message as a case study.

Take a Moment

We’re used to instant messaging, so we shoot messages off quickly, without reviewing what we said. Clickety clack clack Enter!

Unfortunately, this can lead to some big confusions that could be cleared up with just 10–15 seconds of proofreading. That 10–15 seconds can save you several minutes of confused messaging with your coworker. So what issues would this remove from your coworker’s message?

“Did you the image thing? You have to finish on that today beore the luunch tomorrow.”

Looks like your coworker just forgot a few words, maybe added one extra, and had some spelling errors. Let’s clean those up quickly:

“Did you fix the image thing? You have to finish that today before the launch tomorrow.”

Ooohhh, there’s not a lunch meeting tomorrow! Something is just launching tomorrow. And this does need to be finished.

Taking a moment to review this message definitely cleared up a lot, but there’s still a lot of questions about which project this is and what they want you to do. How else could the communication be improved?

Be a Good Sheepdog

I believe C.S. Lewis said it best:

“Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.”

Sometimes people think that “short and sweet” always makes for clear messages. While concision is valuable (don’t include anything unrelated), people need a little direction. Be a good sheepdog: push them in the right direction and away from all the wrong directions. What would this look like in your coworker’s message?

“Did you fix the image thing? You have to finish that today before the launch tomorrow.”

They definitely need to specify which project they’re referring to. Currently, you could assume one of three different directions, and that needs to be guided down to one. And it could also be a host of image issues. The timing could also be explained more clearly: does it necessarily need to be done today, or does it just need to be finished by launch time tomorrow?

“For the seesparkbox.com project, did you fix the issue that’s keeping us from uploading images to the CMS? You have to finish that by EOD today in time for the launch tomorrow.”

This is much clearer and suddenly cuts out the need to ask a lot of clarifying questions before addressing the main concern. This leaves one more step.

Consider Your Tone

You can now understand the meaning of the message. But there’s one more barrier to a quick, effective conversation. The message is flinchingly direct and could cause you to feel defensive. That probably means extra time sending back a defensive message explaining why it hasn’t happened yet or why that might be difficult. This could be cut out with a slightly kinder tone.

“For the seesparkbox.com project, did you fix the issue that’s keeping us from uploading images to the CMS? You have to finish that by EOD today in time for the launch tomorrow.”

So what can we change? We can soften the words and remove “you” statements.

“For the seesparkbox.com project, have you been able to fix the issue that’s keeping us from uploading images to the CMS? We definitely need that finished by EOD today in time for the launch tomorrow.”

This communicates the same meaning but removes any hint of accusation that could cause you to bristle.

Better Conversations, Happier Coworkers

Let’s look at how far the message has come. Taking a moment to proofread, including clear information, and considering the tone made this a much more effective message:

“Did you the image thing? You have to finish on that today beore the luunch tomorrow.”

“For the seesparkbox.com project, have you been able to fix the issue that’s keeping us from uploading images to the CMS? We definitely need that finished by EOD today in time for the launch tomorrow.”

Practicing these three tips and making them habits can make you a consistent, effective communicator. And that can lead to shorter, clearer, and more pleasant conversations with coworkers and clients.