Can You Have Too Much Communication?
Occasionally, I hear someone maintain that you can’t have too much communication. I disagree. In matters of communication, more is not necessarily better. Sure, too little communication can result in low morale, confusion about what’s expected, and mistakes (or disasters) because key information is lacking. If you’re a victim of the nobody-tells-us-anything syndrome, I empathize.
But the other extreme—too much communication—can be just as bad. If everyone is busy communicating, no one is getting any work done. As this StarTribune post points out, “Communications expand exponentially with the number of people involved. After a while, large fractions of an organization’s employees spend nearly all of their time communicating with one another. Little actual work gets done.”
Even if the worker bees keep their communication in check, the powers-that-be can singlehandedly take it to an extreme. I recall a vice president who appreciated the importance of communicating during times of change to help employees know what was happening. He meant well. But he ended up calling people together so often to communicate status that he became the biggest source of the chaos they were experiencing.
Compounding the too-much problem is that communication arrives in so many different ways: email, texts, written material, phone, video conference, and face to face—to say nothing (though many say lots) about too many meetings and too much email cc’ing. As the number of communication methods increases, the amount of useful and meaningful communication seems to be heading downward.
If employees complain about too little communication, as is often the case, communicating more may make things even worse. That’s what happened in an IT organization when an employee satisfaction survey identified too little communication as a key cause of the drooping morale. Taking the results to heart, the director vowed to communicate more. This he did by sending out more email, distributing more magazines, and forwarding more status reports than ever before.
Did his efforts help? No. Because what people meant when they said they wanted more communication wasn’t that they wanted more stuff. What they wanted was to see the director himself more often. They wanted him to wander into their work areas periodically and observe how hard they were working. They wanted him to treat them like they mattered. They wanted to know that he knew they were alive. Oblivious to this fact, he did too much of the wrong kind of communication and watched morale plunge even further.
There’s no magic formula for how much communication is just right. A good rule of thumb may be, as this post by Jon Whitmore states: Focus on making your communication constant, clear, and transparent. And if you’re still in doubt, say more with less.