Good communication can be habit forming

By | March 1, 2016

Every morning before work I go for a walk around the lake in the park near our apartment, accompanied by Colville, our 12-year-old English Lab. The walk takes about 20 minutes, so I’m guessing it’s a mile or so. I started the morning walk after we moved back to Vancouver from Toronto, and now it’s a habit. I’ve lost 10 pounds and never felt better.

I hate exercise for the sake of exercise, but because the walk has become part of my routine I barely think about it.

What does walking have to do with good communication? Well, good communication can become a habit, too, and then we don’t have at work at it or think about how we do it.

For example.

Every Wednesday morning I drive to a Vancouver suburb to work for a few hours in the office of the technology company managing a provincial government project I’m involved in. The PM is based in Victoria so we communicate mostly by email and instant messaging.

Here’s my communication routine to keep my PM up to date. So far it’s worked very well. It involves the magic number three.

One: the day before I go into the office, I email her to tell her what I plan to do on my Wednesday visit.

Two: within 30 minutes of arriving in the office, I email her telling her that I’ve arrived and started the tasks I promised to do.

Three: before I leave the office, I send her a short status email listing what I’ve done, along with any questions, problems or concerns I might have.

This is now a habit, so I don’t have to think about it. I just do it. And the doing accomplishes several things.

Reduces Anxiety – I’ve never been a manager, but I’m guessing that anything that reduces a manager’s anxiety about the unknown (i.e., will this project finish on time and on budget? What is Stephen up to?) is a good thing. By knowing what I plan to do, what I’m doing, and what I’ve done (the three-part rule), the PM can rest assured that things are under control. There are fewer unknowns.

Promotes wellbeing – This habit also reduces any anxieties I might be feeling. I can relax – my PM knows what I’m doing. I walk out the door of that office knowing that I’ve kept my side of the communication bargain and that makes me feel good.

Builds trust – I truly believe a strong communication habit between management and staff can increase the level of trust in an organization. Staff don’t always expect the news to be good – but they do expect it to be delivered promptly, in good faith, and with appropriate professional language. Conversely, managers appreciate knowing where people are at, day by day, week by week.

Creates obligation – I’m no Machiavelli, but good communication can build up a bit of a sense of obligation. When you do something well in the workplace, you distinguish yourself. And usually that pays off in some form of appreciation or return favour. (If it doesn’t, you may working for the wrong company.)

You know, I’ve never worked in a company where a manager has told me, “Stephen, I’m getting so much communication from my staff I’m going nuts!” I also don’t know any organizations where staffers say things like, “Stephen, I’ve got the worst manager in the world … she’s always communicating with me!” For some staff, work is like an never-ending series of revealed secrets, and they’re always the last to be let in on the secret.

But if we made good communication a habit, things might change. Just a bit. Or maybe a lot.

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