Over-communication is Underrated

July 12, 2007 by Jared Goralnick

If you’re unsure whether you should let someone know, you probably should:

  • If someone requests something of you (that takes more than a few minutes), confirm it. Let them know when to expect its completion or what will happen next
  • If you’re working hard on a project for someone and run into snags, let them know your situation
  • If you can’t meet a deadline, speak up

Everyone’s busy, and we all have too many emails. But working with people shouldn’t be a mysterious process–if people are waiting for you, let them know what’s up. If you think that things are taking longer than you expected, chances are that those depending on you are wondering what’s going on, too.

I’m no rocket scientist here, and you may think that this is patently obvious. But why is it that clients get frustrated, projects delayed, and heck, relationships of all sorts fail–it’s from a lack of communication. Not just quality of communication, but its quantity–people often just don’t think an update is necessary. But when it comes to business, it is almost always helpful. Let me offer you a common situation and explain how communication would have helped.

Situation: on a development project, there were things that hadn’t been accounted for (maybe it was the client’s fault, maybe the developer’s, etc.) and the project would thus take a contractor many days of a few hours’ work instead of one day of a few hours’ work

Some reasons for communication:

  1. If the client thinks the project is going to cost $500 then the client should be responsible for paying $500–unless you let the client know the situation and explain why it’s going to cost more than expected. If you let them know as soon as you do about the miscalculation, then they’ll let you know to go ahead or scrap the project altogether. But they’re not going to pay more than your estimate without a good reason before the additional work has been completed and before the project is due
  2. If the contractor communicated the problem as soon as they were aware of it, there might have been an alternative approach. We often miss the point when we get stuck on problems. If something is going to take multiple days that should’ve taken a single one, communicating with the client or a project lead will often present viable alternatives. For instance, just recently a contractor of mine toiled for probably a dozen hours over an issue that I was able to resolve in five minutes with a user interface change. I’m not brilliant, I just had a different perspective
  3. Keeping the client in the dark about when something is going to be finished, regardless of the cost, frustrates the heck out of them. Letting them know what’s going on helps them to plan accordingly and breathe easy

The above three reasons, in this case, fit neatly into financial, practical, and psychological benefits. And their reverse is obvious–lack of communication leads to confusions over billing, developing inferior solutions, and pissing people off.

While it’s hard for me to fathom leaving a client in the dark for more than a day or two, I see it all the time with vendors and contractors. They’re of the opinion that I don’t want to know about something until it’s done. Or that they don’t want to offer a suggested completion date of three weeks from now (so far ahead!) so they just delay writing back. They’re so very wrong: I want to know when something’s going to be done and I want to know the reasons for any delays. If they’re too busy to work on it, then just say so. And if they’re stuck, I want to be able to help–because chances are there’s another answer or a misunderstanding.

What I’m not suggesting is that you micromanage or inundate people with useless status updates. To the contrary, if you communicate with people the situation then they’ll respect you for it and probably let you keep working on things. In business, no one likes surprises. Much like you would call a friend if you’re going to be late for lunch–you should do the same thing with your projects–no matter how big or small they are. A thirty second “head’s up” will be the difference between your clients respecting your work and complaining about it. (And, as an added bonus, it helps you to stay fresh in mind for other projects that you could possibly help with.)

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3 Responses to “Over-communication is Underrated”

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  1. Robin

    Recently I’ve gone through your blog. Its pretty interesting. The topic you’ve chosen and how you have expressed.
    Thanks for your blog.

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