When the closed-loop response time between you and a distant correspondent is a half-day or more, communication can feel like a frustrating hindrance to progress. But anticipating the little problems that arise in complex conversations can make discussions far more productive. In the long-loop environment, preventing problems in conversations takes a lot less effort than fixing them.
What must be anticipated is sometimes far from obvious. Here are some examples.
- Anticipate anxiety about message delivery
- Both recipients and senders can become anxious about delivery, especially when the messages travel in unreliable media such as the Internet. Moreover, in crisis environments, important messages can go unnoticed in the crush of other traffic.
- Establish protocols about acknowledging message arrival. Protocol tiers that depend on the level of urgency of the communication environment are especially helpful.
- Anticipate misunderstanding
- Long-loop conversations often cross cultural or linguistic boundaries, which enhances the risk of misunderstandings. But even within one culture and language, the long-loop environment limits not only the exchanges that focus on the immediate task, but also those intended to clarify ambiguity or complexity in the conversation itself.
- Assume that misunderstandings will occur. Be generous with detailed examples of the points made in your conversations. Avoid the little tactics we all use from time to time to conceal our own limited knowledge or understanding.
- When the message is urgent, go slow
- The probability When the conversation
is urgent, the only way
to communicate fast
is slowlyof misunderstanding escalates with the urgency of the conversation, because people tend to take less care in their communications.
- When the conversation is urgent, the only way to communicate fast is slowly.
- Anticipate politics
- Organizational politics influences the ongoing work of most collaborations. Even though two organizations might be contractually bound to collaborate, opinions about the wisdom of the choice to collaborate can vary. Moreover, people often have conflicting commitments, and priorities do tend to change with time.
- Consider political phenomena when formulating risk plans. Politics can be destructive or constructive, but even when constructive, there can be costs, some of which might fall unevenly on different organizational efforts. The effects of organizational politics on your own effort will be less harmful if you remain alert to this possibility. Keep a clear head, free of anger and frustration, when political interference does occur.
Finally, and paradoxically, anticipate the unexpected mishap. Even though we can't know what specific unexpected mishap might occur, we can be fairly certain that some unexpected mishap will occur. When significant unexpected events happen, we usually feel that they happen at the worst time. In reality, significant unexpected mishaps do happen at all times, but we notice them only when resources are inadequate to address them. In the long-loop environment, communication, the one resource that's most important for dealing with unexpected mishaps, is almost always inadequate. First in this series Top Next Issue
For more suggestions for the long-loop environment, see "Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions," Point Lookout for June 10, 2009; and "Long-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog," Point Lookout for June 24, 2009.
For more about the sinking of the Indianapolis see Charles Maier, "For the Good of the Navy," in Insight on the News, June 5, 2000.
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
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statements we make about each other into statements about ourselves, we can eliminate an important source
of tension and stress.
- See No Evil
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And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
- Definitions of Insanity
- When leaders try to motivate organizational change, they often resort to clever sloganeering. One of
the most commonly used slogans is a definition of insanity. Unfortunately, that definition doesn't pass
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- On Badly Written Email
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who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
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