Communications Breakdown!

It happened again!!!

I sent an email asking a simple question – an either/or question – and the answer comes back “Yes”.

My question to my client:  “Do you want me to contact Mr X or do you want to contact him yourself?”.

So how does responding “Yes” clarify the situation? This is not an uncommon situation to any of the Administrative Assistants reading this. We experience it time and time and time again.  And it does not become less frustrating. It is so difficult for us to admit that we flunked the ‘mind reading’ portion of our training.

It is a small thing, but it is a time waster.  When the person is not on the same premises, it may take time to get another response.  In the example above, it was two days before the client responded.  In the meantime, Mr X is waiting for a response.

There are a lot of communications failure such as this.  You ask for clarification of some task and get a response that reflects on the question but does not answer it or worse, adds to the confusion or leads to another topic altogether.

Communications is a two-way street. It requires both the speaker and the listener to participate fully.  The speaker must be clear and precise with conveying their message, and the listener must pay attention to what is being said.  The success of our communication depends on the 3 V’s – Visual, Vocal and Verbal.  55% of our communications is visual – we see the person’s face, their expressions, their body language and interpret the clues we see there. 38% is vocal -the tone of the communicator’s voice, do they sound confident, unsure, aggressive, conciliatory.  And 7% verbal – what words are they using.

In our age of instant electronic communications, we have lost a lot of the communications cues that help us understand each other, We need to pay more attention to how we communicate in our emails, texts and messages in order to make sure our message is getting through.

One of the keys to a successful business relationship is clear communications between the members!  So it is vital that we learn how to use the electronic media to communicate effectively.

Does this sound familiar?  You send an email to your Virtual Assistant requesting something to be done.  She emails back questions regarding the project.  You email her back answering.  She emails back asking again.  You email back; she emails back.  Now you’re spending a lot of time emailing back and forth.  “Is she stupid?”  you ask yourself, getting more and more annoyed with this deluge of emails concerning what you deem to be a simple project. She’s asking herself “Why can’t I get an answer?” Meanwhile, the work is delayed, the billable time is increasing, and she is still not clear on what you want.

Yes, time is money! So, for no other reason, learn to communicate clearly!

The solutions are pretty simple and lie in your instructions and responses.  No, I’m not blaming you, but let’s face it, we can only control our end of the conversation which in turn will affect the response from the other end.

Communication Checklist:

So what can we do?  Review your correspondence before hitting ‘send’. Be aware of the information you are providing.

  • Was your request clear to start with?

No ambiguous references? No technical jargon that may not be familiar to the recipient? Avoid emojis (except maybe for a happy face 😊).  They may seem like shortcut, but they are a completely separate language.  Don’t believe me – check out Careful with your use of acronyms as well. tracks and lists over 5 million acronyms.  For example, CMS has 331 verified definitions as well as 259 unverified definitions!). Make sure industry specific jargon is understood by everyone involved.

  • Did you limit the communication to one topic or project?

If there are several topics, deal with each individually. Don’t mix Project A with Project B in the same correspondence.  This keeps each project separate, avoids confusion and possible misunderstandings. I like to keep correspondence for each project in its own folder for easy reference.

  • Were the details and expectations clearly stated?

Did you provide a due date? Note: “as soon as possible” is not a due date!  If you need to see a preliminary draft, provide a due date that will be sufficient to have the project nearly complete but leaves plenty of time for revisions to meet the final deadline.

  • Did you make any assumptions regarding the information you provided or did not provide?

Did you assume that the recipient is familiar with your processes and procedures and understands your objectives?

Have you provided all the information that will be needed, including any available resources, your availability, any required credentials needed, documentation, reference material sources, etc?

  • Are you clear on what you are asking for and what will be required?

I had one project which the client told me would take ‘about an hour’. It came as a shock to him that it would take closer to 6 hours because there were preliminary steps including applications for permissions, access, software and documentation that had to be cleared first before I could start on the ‘hour’s work’.

  • Have you confirmed that you and recipient both understand the parameters involved?

Have you made assumptions regarding the level of involvement you expect?  Are you expecting the entire project to be done by one person or several, or will parts then be handed over to other parties for ‘tidy up’, vetting, completion, integration, etc?

  • And most importantly, when clarification was requested, did you respond with clear and concise information to all the questions, not just some?

I have had to deal with clients who would only answer some of my questions, not all.  This would result in another email from me again asking those questions that weren’t answered the first time. And repeat, and repeat – result? Time wasted, project delayed.

  • Best of all if the project is detailed or complex, did you schedule a meeting, by phone or by using an app such as GoToMeeting, to review expectations and requirements?

We are all busy and sometimes we are responding ‘on the run’, but it is much more effective to take a few extra moments to review your messages before you hit ‘send’, and read all of the email/text and response to each question the first time around.  It will save your time and save your VA’s billable time as well. Best of all, it will help keep the project on track.

Are you guilty communications breakdown, of half or vague responses, or of no responses? Are your emails complete and concise? Take a close look at the last exchange of emails with your assistant and see what she was asking and what you responded.

Where can you improve your communications?

Barbara Puchala

Barbara Puchala

Let's Get It Done!

As the Admin Whiz, Barbara Puchala brings over 25 years of experience in all manner of administrative and support services. She has worked with small business owners to multi-national organizations; from new start-ups to long established companies, low tech to high tech and everything in between. The only area she has very limited experience in is playing a musical instrument.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!