Stop Repeating Yourself
We’re often told we need to overcommunicate when working remotely. Unfortunately, I’ve frequently seen team members misinterpret this advice to mean repeat yourself over and over. This doesn’t work for you (or the message receiver) because humans hate repetition. But, if you say something one time, there’s a high likelihood that it will go in one ear and straight out the other. So what’s the alternative?
In the remote context, virtual communication is not meant to overshare or overwhelm someone with information. Instead, it’s about aligning our experiences. There was a lot of shared context around how you experienced your work through peripheral communications in the office.
For example, you would overhear someone’s project discussions or see your boss go into endless quarterly planning meetings. This provided you with context on how their day was going, what they were struggling with, and what they were prioritizing.
In the distributed work world, this context is hidden behind closed DMs and the privacy of working in your own environment. Though this comes with its own benefits, it’s important to remind ourselves of the differences. People who don’t do this end up frustrated that their work isn’t being valued or burned out because they are struggling alone. Leaders who haven’t updated their communication style for the virtual environment end up with misunderstandings and project delays.
Think of it like you’re living in your own personal bubble. You are in control over what others see in your work experience. Since you’re not used to this level of control, effective virtual communications generally starts with communicating more than you think is necessary.
For standard communications, this means proactively communicating when you are blocked, struggling, or have a win (big or small) — and not expecting others to magically know. An easy way to get used to this level of communication is to schedule a brief weekly email to your manager, including these details.
For more extensive messaging (ex. sharing quarterly goals, making decisions, or teaching), you combat this oblivion by using overcommunication. This allows you to effectively get critical information across virtually through choosing to reframe rather than repeat.
When it comes to remote work, the definition of overcommunication is:
The process of communicating similar messages across multiple methods to the same audience in order to get important information across
I know this is wordy, but each piece is critical when it comes to communicating virtually. So let’s break it down.
Not the same message. Repetition works for memorization but not for understanding. If you repeat the same message 5x, the other person says, “I heard you; I just don’t understand you.”
Instead, think of how one scene in a movie is shot from many angles to give you the full view, and try to do the same with your messaging. Your communications will go from 2D to 3D.
“Across multiple methods”
Some people prefer long-form messaging, and others just like the key points. Some people capture information best in the verbal form, and others prefer written. The sooner you utilize multiple formats, the sooner everyone will actively hear your message. The same thing goes for synchronous vs. asynchronous messaging.
Let’s say you’re in a meeting notifying everyone of an important upcoming decision. Best case scenario, they paid attention and understood everything in the moment. However, three back-to-back meetings later, they’ve completely forgotten about your important but non-urgent task. Don’t rely on one form of communication.
Remember, you’re communicating with humans. To increase information retention, aim to slowly build their understanding over time instead of hitting them with all information at once. If you’re instead sharing the same message to different audiences, utilize reusable assets (like documentation).
Using this method for everything under the sun wouldn’t be a valuable use of your time and would overwhelm the receiver. So instead, focus on using it for high-value, dense content with long-term impact.
Examples: Big decisions, quarterly goals, or educational content.
3 I’s of Effective Virtual Communication
When using overcommunication, it’s also important to follow the 3 I’s of effective virtual communication. The messaging should be:
- Informative — Provide all the context the other person needs. Help them understand not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’. You most likely came into the conversation with much more context than the receiver. It would help if you caught them up.
- Intentional — The communication should be on point and concise. It’s important to provide context without confusing the message you’re trying to get across. You should also be intentional in the way you communicate the message (ex. Don’t cause them to waste time thinking, “this should have been an email”).
- Inquisitive — Don’t just talk at people. You should be asking questions, having them tell you what they understand, and proactively finding out what came across and didn’t. Make sure the receivers aren’t just parroting back what you say. Our goal is understanding, not memorization.
Stages of Overcommunication
So, now that we understand ‘what’ overcommunication is, it’s time to put it into action. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of people end up stuck. So, I created the Stages of Overcommunication to provide you with a framework to effectively communicate virtually.
The first stage is the most commonly skipped step, but it’s also the most important. The point is to give a heads up to the receiver that this information is coming soon. This gives people time to prepare, research, and brainstorm, while also triggering their brain to look out for and pay attention to this upcoming messaging.
Example: Providing a meeting agenda
You’re probably most familiar with this one, so I’ll keep this short. In this stage, you lay out all the context and information.
Example: Having a meeting
In the third stage, you’re giving the receivers a chance to ask questions and allowing them to communicate what they understand. Hone in on what’s coming across and what’s not. Then, adjust accordingly.
Example: Offering a specific time or outlet for a Q&A.
You can do all other stages in either a synchronous or asynchronous format, but the reference stage must be asynchronous. This stage provides reviewable resources around the details.
You’re probably familiar with this coming in the form of recordings or slides. But this robust form isn’t helpful for those who went through the detail stage. Instead, they need resources that are easily and quickly referenced.
Example: Providing key bullet points, action items, or a quick 1-page summary.
This final stage helps you close the loop and keep everyone accountable. Use this stage to make relevant connections and to continue to build on understanding.
Example: Ending a recurring call with recapping action items. Then, starting the next recurring call reviewing progress on those action items.
One thing to note, you might have one method for each stage of overcommunication, or you might have multiple depending on how much information you’re trying to get across.
For example, in my Mastering Remote Leadership course, I’m changing ingrained behaviors and educating on broad topics, so we use multiple methods for each stage, as shown here:
Remember, when it comes to virtual communication, the general rule is if you feel comfortable with your level of communication, you probably aren’t communicating enough. Overcommunication will feel uncomfortable in the beginning. Try out the Stages of Overcommunication to help ease the transition while also increasing transparency, decreasing misunderstandings, and building trust. Intentionally adjusting your approach will allow you to effectively get important information across virtually. Choose to reframe rather than repeat.
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