Dear Effective Communicator:
I woke up Sunday morning to an email chain that took three cups of coffee to read. I lost another hour writing a response and debating whether to send it. The rest of the day is a blur of back-and-forth emailing. My colleagues spent Monday morning rehashing everything. How can I get my weekend back?
Mourning on Mondays
espectful communication and effective communication share a lot in common: they require deep thinking, choices about what matters most, and a focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. These were just a few insights I gleaned from a far-reaching conversation with Tom Miller in an effort to answer your question.
Modern workplace communication has turned into an arms race
“The more you send, the more you get,” Miller said, referring to emailing habits. That’s a problem because “emails and texts are anti-deep work. They are bursts of information that limit thoughtfulness.”
Your capacity to work thoughtfully is like a tank of gas. It naturally depletes with use. If you use it in a reply-all race to the bottom, you won’t have it for the more enjoyable, if more difficult, work of creative thinking. And as the tank approaches empty, you open yourself to mistakes and misunderstandings. As you well know, those mistakes compound in the evenings and weekends when you would normally fill your tank for the upcoming workday or workweek.
Miller’s antidote? Go slow. How? By making the choice.
Think of setting boundaries as enforcing your priorities
Setting boundaries is one of the more important choices effective communicators make. But setting boundaries in a 24/7 world doesn’t come easy; fear-of-missing-out often guides how we allocate our attention. “I worry the culture doesn’t know any other way,” Miller said. He prefers to think of boundary-setting as the art of crafting priorities.
When you think in terms of priorities, boundaries come naturally. If your weekend priority is spending time with family, then anything that doesn’t match that priority (checking email, for example) is excluded. You might say you’ve created a boundary, but a priority does something more dynamic for you. For example, email may be how you stay in touch with out-of-state siblings. Selectively checking and responding to email on the weekend might be how you prioritize those relationships.
Once upon a time, phones were things you talked in to
It seems old school, but Miller is a phone fan. It’s often quicker and more effective, especially when your purpose requires some negotiation—something Miller learned during his time in Washington, D.C., as a congressional staffer.
The telephone is also a more forgiving medium. An intelligent response to an email can take time and still leave you vulnerable to misunderstanding; a telephone conversation is quicker and increases mutual understanding. “Email is not for complex issues,” Miller said. But the phone, and in-person, is.
There is wide overlap between respectful communication and effective communication. Stay respectful by taking the high road and avoiding the weekend reply-all. Your Monday morning self will thank you.
You got this,
The Effective Communicator
Why Dr. Miller Uses Emojis 😉
Emails and text messages lack the nuances of body language that we’ve evolved to understand over thousands of years. That’s one reason Miller uses emojis—with discretion—in text messages. They may seem silly to the uninitiated. But text messages are more like talking than writing. Emojis convey subtexts, like sarcasm, that are lost in plain text.
The Effective Communicator is Isaac Holyoak. Isaac is contributing editor for Accelerate and leads communication for University of Utah Health Medical Group. He received a Master's in rhetoric from the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University and taught speech, argumentation, and debate to undergraduates in Indiana and Texas in his pre-health care life.