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:
- 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.)
- 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.
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.