Communication is a never-ending activity. As long as we want to achieve something involving other people, we must communicate. Whether with the people we work with or with our audience and clients, without communication, we cannot exchange information, develop ideas, synchronize our efforts, and co-create.
With this realization in mind, one might wonder, how can communication be effective? How can we achieve tangible goals by practicing an activity that never ends? Does the fact that communication is never-ending mean that we have to engage in endless threads of emails and messages? Does it mean that our meetings will never result in an operative outcome that will help us do other work beyond just communicating — the real work needed to make progress?
The fact that communication as a type of activity is never-ending leads us to think that the constant chatter about anything and everything is an essential part of our work. Many believe this is the essence of collaborating and creating things together.
Communication is never-ending, but we must think about effective communication as a collection of independent interactions. Unlike communication as a concept, each interaction must be very well defined. It must be connected to a predefined Mission — an overarching goal that goes beyond this concrete instance of communication. Each interaction must have an Initiative — a concrete, actionable step we wish to achieve to promote the Mission. And it must have clear boundaries in terms of who is involved and how much time it takes.
When you send an email or set up a meeting, you must have a purpose in mind. You must consider if the people you share it with — your Associates — are the right people to help you realize this purpose. And you must be conscious of how the discussion progresses and whether the means you chose to communicate are helping to converge the discussion.
This last part is crucial. When each interaction is focused on a concrete Initiative, it must be finite. We must be able to promote this Initiative in a meeting or two or with a couple of emails. If we can’t do that, we must backtrack and improve something. Either the scope of the Initiative is too broad, or it is not well-defined. Either we have too few Associates on board or too many. Or maybe, we need to invest more in setting the ground and preparing the discussion.
Awareness is the key to breaking the cycle of endless meetings, emails, and message threads. Communication will always be there, supporting our collaborative work. But each interaction must be concrete, effective, and limited in time and scope. When you are aware of an interaction that is not converging and just keeps dragging, stop it. Ask yourself: How can I redesign the flow of communication so you and your Associates can reach a bottom line with a predefined, limited number of iterations?