Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Communication: Is It Focused or Fragmented?

Communication is easy these days. With one quick e-mail or one quick phone call, you or I can transfer the thought that is in our heads to the other person. Is that a good thing—or a bad thing—or both?
time management

To fully answer the question, I think we have to look at the scenario from the receiving end. How many e-mails are you getting during the course of a day? How fragmented do you feel as the result of re-focusing your attention from one topic to the next? How truly significant are those e-mails?

If the author had to wait a day before sending it, would the significance still be there? Would he have thought through the problem on his own just a little more before asking you to solve it for him? How truly significant are those phone calls? Just because the person on the other end had a few spare seconds in the grocery store line and a thought in his head, does that mean the thing to do is interrupt something potentially more significant you were doing?

As I look back over my years as a school principal, one of the key elements which “worked” was the “Friday Memo.” Every week, I composed a one-page memo and placed it in the mailbox of every employee on Friday morning. On that one page was everything I needed to tell them for that week. Announcements, birthday greetings, calendar events—they were all there. What did not make it on this week’s Friday Memo waited until next week.

Save the Friday Memo throughout the year, and you had in one place everything I had told you all year long. Not sure how much a box of copy paper was going to cost when requisitioned from the central office? Look back at a Friday Memo from the fall and you find your answer.

A year into my principalship, we established e-mail accounts for our faculty and staff. The Friday Memo, however, continued to live. Why?

Even though I am a digital person and quickly latched on to the benefits of e-mail, I realized its ability to fragment communication. How well can the average person put his hands on information from e-mails or phone calls? My experience is “not very well.” E-mails tend to be fragmented bits of information. One line of substance is accompanied by a paragraph of pleasantries and an obligatory closing.

What if we were to hold off for a moment on that e-mail? What if we were to wait a day or so and include several questions in that one e-mail? What if we waited to make that phone call and called tomorrow to talk about several topics? What if other people did the same for us? What would it take for all of this to happen?

Do people intentionally fragment the time of their colleagues? Of course not. A thought comes to mind, and they use technology to get that thought off their mind before they forget it. Because thoughts occur randomly, the communication occurs equally as randomly. It happens so frequently we often think that's the way it is supposed to be.

Tools as simple as a notepad and pencil prevent the random thought from being forgotten. Those tools are our friends. They allow us to let our thoughts accumulate. They allow us to organize our thoughts. Let the results be messages fewer in number and greater in meaning.

How much more could you accomplish if your days were not fragmented? What tools do you use to keep from fragmenting the days of your colleagues? 


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