Advice for Over-Communicators

A frustrated reader wrote to tell me that one of his teammates sends him long, pointless emails. I will call the teammate Rob.

Rob's emails are pointless because they include plenty of detail but do not include anything the reader needs to know or do now. They do not require action for a month or more, and the reader cannot take action until Rob provides more information, which is not yet available. 

That situation is frustrating. Why does Rob do this?

My guess is that Rob is an over-communicator. When he has information, he feels everyone on his team must have it.

Let's say Rob receives information today about a software change that will take place on August 5. Being a diligent communicator, he emails everyone about the change.

Instead of writing a brief email, Rob forwards to the team a long email thread between himself and the software vendor, which mentions the software update. Rob also attaches a spreadsheet about scheduled software maintenance and a team calendar for August, both of which include a variety of information loosely related to the software update.

There is nothing Rob's teammates can do with the information now, yet they need to wade through the email and open the attachments to be sure they have not missed anything. Then they shriek in frustration and write to someone like me to complain.

If you are like Rob, your strength is that you do not hold back information from your coworkers. But that is also your weakness. Your coworkers do not need all the information you receive and forward to them, especially when there are no steps to take now and nothing they can do until more information becomes available.

If you are an over-communicator, before you initiate a communication, ask yourself:

  1. Do my coworkers need this information now? Is there anything they should do with it now? (If they don't need to be aware of it and can't do anything with it, do not send it.)
  2. If they need the information now, how much do they need? What is the smallest amount of information that will meet their needs? (The shorter your message, the more likely it is that they will read and understand it.)

In the fictional Rob scenario, if Rob feels that people need to become aware of the August 5 software update, he can write a simple message like this:

Subject: XYZ Updates on August 5–FYI Only

Our XYZ platform will undergo updates on August 5. I will share relevant information as soon as I receive it and you can act on it.

Rob

Do you work with over-communicators like Rob? Are you yourself an over-communicator? Please share advice or moments of self-awareness. Your comments could help reduce communication frustration at work.

Lynn
Syntax Training

11 COMMENTS

  1. Great post! I am a struggling over-communicator, both in person and in writing. I find myself regularly providing too many details so that people to whom I am speaking or writing have “the whole picture.” Since I myself like to know all the details of projects I’m involved in, it can be difficult for me to remember that others often neither need nor want the whole picture, but only the part that relates to them. When I find myself writing (or saying), “In summary…” or, “The bottom line is…” I will try to ask myself if the bottom line is perhaps all I need to provide.

  2. Hi, Stephanie. Thanks for giving us the over-communicator’s perspective. “In summary” and “The bottom line is” are excellent signs that one may have written too much. I am glad you shared those examples here.

    Lynn

  3. Good tip. I share Stephanie’s passion for details.

    ************

    Our audience includes both detail-focused and detail-adverse people; our department uses the mullet of writing to satisfy both.

    The flashy short message is shown first for the non-detail people. They can get in, get the message, get out (often with pictures).

    We hide the bulky detailed parts below the line or after a link. Dedicated detail-seekers will find them.

  4. I second Percy. Include the must know information in a very brief summary at top and include detail below. In fact, I have been known to say “Wall of text below” after the short message and then put in enough returns that you can’t see the wall when you open it. I have coworkers who will not read word one (including the bolded important 7 word summary sentence) if they see the wall of text when they open the e-mail.

  5. As Stephanie, I’m also an over-communicator. I usually end up rewriting my messages several times to avoid wordiness and excess detail. However, this usually takes a lot longer than expected, so sometimes it’s just a matter of looking for a balance between urgency and effectiveness.

  6. Hi, Percy. Thank you for introducing me to the word “mullet.” You had me consulting my dictionary to understand “the mullet of writing.”

    For those like me who may not be familiar with “mullet,” my “American Heritage College Dictionary” defines the word as “a hairstyle formed by cutting the hair short on the top and sides of the head and allowing it to grow longer in back.”

    That’s an interesting way to describe writing for various readers!

    Lynn

  7. Hi, Jennifer. I support your idea of including the essential information at the top.

    When I have a lot of information to communicate, I avoid walls of text by using headings and white space to break the information into short chunks. If the information is important enough to include, I want to be sure people who need it read it.

    Do you think you could break up the walls of text in your messages?

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Lynn

  8. Hi, Lucy. I am glad you mentioned the need for balance between urgency and effectiveness.

    When I teach business writing classes, I often mention the need to assess the importance of the message and the audience when deciding how much time to spend on it. We are busy–we can’t make every email a model message.

    Lynn

  9. Wall of text, to some, means, “I see more than two sentences and a signature when I open a document! Oh no! Too much! Information overload!” Headers and whitespace don’t make a difference to these types. They are a great idea and to most folks that, you’d think, would be enough to break it up.

    Not that I resent this total lack of willingness to read by my co-workers. Oh no. Never that.

  10. Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for explaining what you meant by a wall of text.

    Feel free to express your resentment here. Then go back to writing the best way you can. I am with you in the good fight!

    Lynn

Comments are closed.