It’s Communication’s Fault!

Human conflict, drama and gossip are all very funny things. Call me idealistic, but I do not believe that deep down people genuinely dislike other people. Bad relationships form out of misinformation or no information at all. We’ve all been gifted with perspective and egos, but they often do us the disservice of helping listeners misinterpret a speaker and inspiring speech to skew with bias. It is very, very easy – even more so for the most mindful, brilliant, sociable or well-spoken people – to misunderstand each other. Dialogue, body language and writing are all very delicate things. If you find yourself in a sticky situation with another human being, give him or her the benefit of the doubt and blame poor communication first. Try to get the other person to do the same. Get on the same page about miscommunication and you are one step closer to working it out. It’s not the other person’s fault – do not blame him or her. It’s communication’s fault.

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Turn Off Email Notifications

I did the math and realized my phone buzzes or beeps once every 3.5 minutes during the average work day. Over 90% of that comes from email. It’s a miracle that I am able to pay attention to anything at all with that party going on in my pocket. And forget restful sleep – there’s no way. Email is huge a distraction in my life. Out of spite, I’ve started leaving my phone places. Unfortunately, that results in a nasty habit of missing worthwhile phone calls. To combat the distraction, I started a very simple experiment: turning off all email notifications on my phone and laptop. I intend to track productivity and see how things go. With any luck, I will find myself more engaged in work, meetings, conversation and social outings. Text messages and instant messenger are still fair game if you have something urgent to say. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark with an email – I’ll get back to you when I choose to (and not when my phone nags me to).

Gmail As My To-Do List

I am astonished by people who archive nothing and let their inboxes run wild. How can you keep track of anything? Crazy people. Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly focused behavior of keeping only active task emails in my inbox. If I’ve taken care of it (or if someone else already did), the email gets filtered and archived away. If it doesn’t deserve to go away yet (e.g. the task is not complete), it sits there…haunting me. That alone inspires me to get the work done.

The behavior takes disciple. I have an email or two in my personal inbox that are two or three years old. Because they are not complete, I cannot archive them away (Charlie, I’m sorry I haven’t finished editing that scene yet for your reel. I promise I’ll get to it!!). This system helps me honor everyone who emails me directly, lets nothing slip through the cracks and gets everything done. Want to find your way onto my to-do list? Email me. I can’t promise you that I’ll get to it immediately – but I can promise you I’ll get to it. It may haunt me and I’ll hate you for it, but I’ll get to it.

Phones Can Call People, Too

I think people forget that phones can still be used for voice conversations. I get so many back and forth text messages or email chains on a day to day basis. In the hours that pass trading notes, the discussion could have passed and resolved in a handful of minutes. Texts make sense for updates. Emails make sense for a bigger pile of information. For making big decisions or catching up? Not even close.

Call someone. It’s quicker, more personal and less ambiguous.

Email Is Not Urgent

Every email I receive presumes to be imminently earth-shattering. Very annoying. Ninety-five percent of emails that hit my inbox are not urgent. I receive around 250 emails per business day – that’s one email every two minutes. It takes me forever to craft thoughtful replies, so I regularly fall behind in trying to keep up. To prevent this constant influx of faux peril from stressing me out, I am paying less and less attention to email these days. In the process, I’ve let a few important notes slip through the cracks. Oh well.

If it’s important or time sensitive, don’t just email me – call or approach me in person. I ignore my phone during meetings for everything except calls (it vibrates a dozen consecutive times when you ring me, so it’s difficult to ignore). Knock if you need to. If the issue at hand is complicated, follow up with details in writing so I have all necessary and accurate info in front of me to address the situation. If you can’t get ahold of me in person or by phone, put ‘URGENT’ in the subject line. Obviously, don’t do that if it’s not urgent.

To get real work done without distraction, I need to ignore my email for a sizable fraction of the day. You should, too. Constantly replying to emails means you’re working reactively instead of proactively. Unless you work in a call center, reactive work only contributes to the status quo of your organization. In a competitive industry, status quo work can be regressive and therefore deadly for a company. Don’t do it.

If I don’t write you back within a few hours (or days), why would you follow up with a second email? That’s silly. Your method failed the first time – why on earth would it succeed any better a second time?

If an email exchange we’re participating in turns critical, please cover all bases and follow up in person with everyone involved. Get our collective heads out of email and into real problem-solving mode. Hear the voices of others repeat back to you their understanding of the situation. Make sure everyone is on the same page – on paper and in dialogue. Then get real work done.

Inventory Your Relationships

When I say, ‘Inventory your relationships,’ I don’t mean, ‘Treat your friends like retail products on a stocking shelf.’ I mean, ‘Keep tabs on everyone in your network.’

Like reviewing notes taken in class, study your mobile contacts list, address book, or friends list. Take note of the people you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you find yourself curious about or missing updated information on a contact, you should reach out to him or her and catch up. Send a note, invite for coffee, arrange a phone or video call – whatever you find comfortable. Learn what keeps your friends busy, where their talents lie, what interests they have, and where they want to go next. Catch up, offer help if you can, and take notes to update your rolodex. Promise to stay in touch.

Never rule anyone out; people can change. Some of the shady characters in high school may have sobered up to start multi-million dollar businesses. You never know. You will be surprised what happens when you reach out to old relationships, especially the ones you were never close with before. You might uncover a great opportunity, discover a shared interest, or find romance. All three have happened to me. Partnerships of all kinds form out of rebooting network connections.

Recycling old relationships can be far easier than meeting new people because you already share common ground. I would even argue that keeping your network fresh by staying in touch is equally as important as growing your network, if not more so. As I have said before, it’s not about who you know, but who knows you. It is important that your contacts remember you. Stay fresh in other people’s minds, keep them fresh in yours, and keep your network strong.

It all starts by skimming your phone during downtime. Stay in touch.

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Groupon and Living Social Just Lost a Customer

GrouponI’ve had enough. Fitness classes, yoga, waxing, Brazilian blowouts, facials, tattoos, beauty products, home & garden, apparel, too many hair cuts, too many massages, too many poorly yelped restaurants. I cannot delete these daily spam notes quick enough. I would never spend money on any of those things. I’ve been registered to both sites for over a year and only purchased five coupons. That means that I found only 0.7% of all available deals relevant and 99.3% mostly irrelevant. Terrible odds. I unsubscribed from both services this morning.

Not sure if you’ve ever checked, Groupon or Living Social, but I’m a 23-year-old male and not really that into blowouts or bikini waxing. A basic search and your own profile form would reveal at least that much. Connecting through Facebook or Foursquare could teach you even more.

The marketing prowess of daily emails and a clever coupon system has completely worn off. If these services made a little effort to market their offers by listing “best steak in town” or “highest yelped masseuse” in the subject line, I might pay more attention. Otherwise, the deal messages sit in my inbox like spam at the mercy of the delete button.

Groupon, Living Social, OpenTable, Facebook Deals, Google Offers and all of the other ripoffs coupon services need to start delivering relevant, targeted and meaningful deals. “Deal type” subscription checkboxes on signup pages are not sufficient. The delivery mechanism of email needs to be treated more delicately. And they all need to compete for poignant brevity (deal announcements should be no longer than a tweet).

I will stay registered to Yipit.com, which aggregates all of the major deal players into one daily email and does a far better job weeding out coupon categories I will never buy. But even Yipit could afford to target better and market the benefit of each deal.