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Are You Overcommunicating?

With all the business messages we send and receive, communicating from our screens can eat up several hours in the workday. But sometimes we make it more difficult than it needs to be by overcommunicating or by requiring others to overcommunicate. Consider the questions below.

1. When you are copied on an email that is sent directly to other people, do you reply to it?
You can save valuable time by realizing that people on the Copy to or Cc line are not expected to reply, and often their replies are not welcome. Many people in writing classes have complained about having to waste time replying to people who should not have replied in the first place.

If your comment is essential and you feel you must reply, then do. But make that behavior an exception.

Key point: A Cc message is for your information–not for your reply.


2. When you delegate a project or an assignment, do you require the person who has taken on the work to copy you on his or her emails?


You can save yourself plenty of unnecessary reading if you ask for regular updates rather than copies of every communication. The size of the project and its urgency can help you decide whether you need daily, weekly, or monthly updates.

Besides wasting your time, copying you on everything can make other people feel you are constantly checking their work. Also, your name on the Cc line can undermine their control of the project: Seeing your name, people receiving the messages may view you as the person managing the project and may communicate directly with you.

Key point: Insisting on copies of every communication wastes time and suggests a lack of trust.


3. Do you send out reminders before something is due?
Stop making work for yourself and others. Writing reminders and replying to them take time. When you ask for information or work to be completed, agree on a deadline. Then do not send out a reminder unless the due date or hour has passed. (Build some wiggle room into your original deadline so that you do not need to worry about late work.)

Caution: Reminders may cause people to rely on your reminders rather than their own task lists.

Key point: Reading your reminder takes time away from finishing the project.

4. Do you email or upload information between meetings when you are going to share the same information at the next meeting?
If you meet regularly with an individual or a group, cut down on messages between meetings. The exceptions occur when you need people to review information before the next meeting or the information is urgent.

If you agree at the weekly project meeting to complete a task before the next meeting, do not email the team to let everyone know you have done it–unless people are waiting for that information. Your unnecessary message could trigger a long, needless email thread.

Key point: Communicate routine information once, not twice.


5. Do you start discussions in email between meetings?
You can save time and hundreds of email replies if you wait until the next meeting or you comment in a virtual discussion space that eliminates the need for back-and-forth emails.

Discussions in email diminish efficiency when people do not read the entire bottom-up thread and therefore make irrelevant comments. Also, people waste time emailing “I agree” to 20 others, who then have to figure out what the person agrees with.

At a team meeting, decide how and when you will handle discussions between meetings. Don’t have this discussion in email!

Key point: Email is rarely an efficient place for discussions.


6. When an individual sends you a brief message thanking you for information or acknowledging it, do you reply with “You’re welcome” or “Thank you“?
You may be overcommunicating. One thanks is typically enough although situations differ. If you would not pick up the phone to communicate the same message, your email reply may be a waste of your time and the other person’s.

Key point: Sometimes it is best to let someone else have the last polite word.


7. When you receive a request for information, do you tell everything you know in your reply?
If you don’t censor the amount you share, you are overcommunicating. For example, I ask people who plan to attend a business writing class to share briefly what they would like to do more effectively in their writing. Some people email two or three sentences in reply. Others attach an entire page (and frequently submit it late). If we were starting a coaching relationship, a page might be appropriate, but for a half-day class, I do not need that much information.

If you are straining to figure out how not to share an entire page or several screens, consider first emailing a brief summary and asking your readers whether they need more information.

Key point: More is more. It is not necessarily more helpful.


8. When communicating with others, do you consider how much information your readers need now?
If you do not package your information in need-to-know-now emails, you are overcommunicating. For example, when you announce the fall schedule of training programs, your readers probably do not need to know about the winter and spring calendars. They definitely do not need to know about how to register for next year’s programs.

Key point: If it is not important now, your readers do not need or want it now.

Do you endure other people’s overcommunication at work? Please share your examples. You may change someone’s behavior!


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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