The Case for Over-Communicating

communication methods

Since March 30 I’ve been constantly thinking about an email I received from my dear friend and colleague, Natasha Marchewka.

Natasha is definitely one of life’s constant learners and she’ll often send me things she’s discovered. In this case, it was a quote from James Clear, author of the best-selling book Atomic Habits.

I’ve been trying to decide if the statement is right or wrong. This week it became clear to me – when it comes to business communication, it is 100% correct.

What is this curious statement? And how is it influencing my work and communication style?

“It’s generally better to over-communicate. If you wait to reply because you don’t have an answer yet (or because you don’t want to share bad news), the other party often ends up making assumptions about what the delayed reply might mean. Silence frustrates and confuses people. Better to communicate early and often.”

~ James Clear

As a potential client, I’ve recently experienced the opposite of over-communicating.

I’m taking on the daunting task of moving my home away from oil heat. A month ago a representative arrived from a referred company and my impression was that this initial meeting went well. My expectation was a follow-up email or phone call. After one week I left a voicemail for the representative. Same thing after two weeks. No response.

Other work I’m doing on the house has taught me that, for a variety of reasons, things can move slowly. As Clear’s quote suggests, I made an assumption that the firm was overwhelmed with projects, so in week three I checked in with the office manager. They sounded surprised at the lack of communication and indicated they would investigate and that I would hear back soon.

Another week went by. This time when I reached the office manager I voiced my assumption, “You must be very overwhelmed.” The answer was, “No, not at all.” Uh oh. The representative did call back that day. The conversation included an apology, some excuses, and the implication that I had misunderstood the process. Oh my!

I’ve now landed on the assumption that this is a job they simply don’t want. It is an old, quirky house with a variety of issues that will make the transition away from oil a bit complicated. If I’m right, that could have been communicated to me in an email three weeks earlier. If I’m wrong, they could have ensured my understanding of the process and kept the job by over-communicating with me.

In thinking about the other contractors that are currently supporting me in taking care of this house, they are all over-communicators. My plumber relies on text but is diligent and always keeps his word. The team that’s replacing a large front window is keeping me regularly informed by email.

I’ve also looked back on my own projects and remembered that when I fumbled with over-communicating, a workshop vanished. Today as I juggle a big project with a short deadline, I’m diligent about over-communicating with quick emails that keep everyone informed of progress and next steps.

It seems to me that over-communicating works to everyone’s advantage but I’m interested in your thoughts. Where do you stand on over-communicating? How do you use it with your clients and prospects? And how does it impact your purchasing decisions? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And if you’ve got a referral to a reliable company that I should contact to move away from oil heating, let me know!

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6 thoughts on “The Case for Over-Communicating”

  1. I prefer more communication than less as long as it’s not too overboard. Even if the news is bad it’s better than not saying anything at all

    Reply
    • Absolutely, Scott. There are some conversations that cause us to hesitate, that we rehearse in our minds ahead of time because they are difficult, but having the conversation is what strengthens our relationships in business and personally.

      Reply
  2. I agree with James Clear 100%. Delayed responses leave people confused. It’s a bit like people who are late all the time—regardless of the reason, it signals their priorities.

    Reply
    • Thanks Lorri. This is a very straightforward way to summarize the power of over-communication “Delayed responses leave people confused”. Perfect!

      Reply
  3. I’ve discovered that over communicating is not a bad thing, especially as many people don’t bother to read emails fully. Sending the same info in different ways/times can sometimes help get the point across.

    Reply
    • This is a great quote, Cheryl. We have so many “channels” to communicate these days and we can’t ever be sure “who is checking what when”, so sending the info in different ways is an absolute must. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply

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