How to be a Considerate Communicator
By Ray Newal, Managing Director of Techstars Bangalore Accelerator
The Metaphor of the Traffic Light
On a recent bike ride, while passing through a four-way intersection, a thought occurred to me regarding the role of contracts and signaling systems in interdependent situations. Without traffic lights, speed limits, and a contract between drivers to obey the traffic laws, cars would crash into each other a lot more than they do. Bike riders like myself would never stand a chance. The combination of signaling systems and contracts allow us to bring order to chaos. In the case of traffic, these systems help us get from point A to point B in one piece.
But what happens when the signals and associated contracts are no longer relevant to our behaviors, or can’t keep pace with the magnitude of interdependencies? Technology has a way of impacting human behaviors and sometimes making them obsolete. When behaviors change, we need new ways to manage them. Prior to traffic signals, cars and carriages were sufficiently sparse and slow enough to allow the driver (or rider) to visually assess the situation at an intersection and act accordingly. As cars became cheaper and faster, and roads became more highly trafficked, the visual approach stopped working, leading to the advent of traffic signals and road signs.
While communications started out as a simple interdependency, it too has become increasingly complex.
The Telephone and the Mailbox
Here’s a previous, universally accepted communications contract: the sender would dial or write when they had something to say, and the recipient would pick up or respond when they recognized an incoming call or a letter in the mail. This contract and signalling system worked very well when communications required us to be physically proximate to the telephone or letterbox in order to receive calls or letters. It worked because the expectations of the caller or sender were defined by the chance that the receiver would be by their phone, or in the case of letters, that the mail would probably arrive—at some point. It was manageable and even fun for the recipient to get phone calls after dinner, or check the letterbox on the way home from work. On the off chance that the phone rang, or a letter was discovered in the letterbox, these communications received the full attention of the recipient—even a telemarketing call may have been received with pleasure!
Our Relentless, Wireless World
In a wireless world with devices always readily available in our pockets or purses, we find ourselves in dire need a of a better contract and signalling system. Even though our devices never leave our sides, the device in your pocket now works harder for the sender, making sure those competing calls and messages get heard as soon as they arrive. Instead of making life easier, mobile and internet communication has conspired to create a feeling of obligation on the recipient side. The result? We feel like we have to be perpetually responsive to communications, regardless of whether we are focused at work, exercising at the gym, or spending quality time with loved ones.
Wireless technology, communications software, and mobile telephony have gradually increased the volume and frequency of communications, making us ubiquitously accessible, and creating a perceived obligation of round-the-clock responsiveness because we have yet to develop any new contracts or systems to deal with this increasingly complex interdependency. Just as there are potentially fatal consequences of traffic flowing without mutual acceptance of traffic signals and rules, there are also significant consequences of communications traffic flowing without a system that respects our ability to receive those communications with mental availability, and attention.
With the traffic light stuck on green, the flow of communications never stops, and our lack of attention has become the unfortunate by-product. In work and life, events that receive our full and undivided attention are rare and infrequent. Indeed we’ve stopped being present for much outside of what happens on the device in our pocket.
A New Contract for Communication
In the absence of any better signalling system for our digital communication, we need to develop a new contract for communication that is less reliant on the recipient to manage their accessibility. Considerate communication requires us to be conscious and empathetic of the recipient’s attention by selecting how and when we communicate with them. By considering the recipient, we also optimize the receptive value of what is being communicated, meaning we get the responses we need when we need them.
Here are some of my ideas on things we can do to be Considerate Communicators. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!
Skip the cc
Let’s all agree to avoid copying each other on emails. I get it, copying is to ensure everyone relevant to a given subject is in the loop. Slack is a better tool for this: it’s a great repository for FYI’s, group discussions, and media pertinent to a topic. Instead of using email to keep everyone in the loop, let’s use email to send things to people who need to receive and respond to that specific subject.
Set email priorities
In email, there are things I need to respond to ASAP, and there are things I need to look at within the next day or two. For anything else, we shouldn’t be using email. Let’s use the tools that come in just about every email system these days to mark priorities, so that no one misses a message that needs to be seen and responded to within the next day. Everything else will get a response within 48 hours. If it doesn’t require a response it won’t be sent as an email, it will go to Slack.
When something needs to be seen and acted on NOW, there are tons of tools that do a good job of grabbing someone’s attention. At Techstars, we use Voxer for truly urgent communications. You could also use messengers like Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Slack DM, etc.—whatever works for your company, as long as you set expectations around that particular platform. Let’s use these sparingly, because very rarely does anything actually need to be responded to right away. Let’s not use calls unless it’s an absolute emergency. Unscheduled calls should fall within the domain of one’s friends and family members.
Let’s move complex multi-angled discussions to the place that complexity is best managed: scheduled synchronous communication. This can be Skype, Hangouts, phone calls, or a good old coffee meeting. Whether these are one-on-one or involve a group, these discussions are always best handled in real-time. But even if it only requires a one-on-one conversation, let’s remember to respect each other’s time by scheduling the conversation. An IM chat can also become an easy entry point into a synchronous voice or video discussion, if both parties agree to it.
Respect the time block
Let’s honor and respect each other’s time blocks. Short of having a tool to manage our mutual awareness of each other’s time blocks, let’s just agree to not send work communication outside of the workday that requires an immediate response, unless it’s an urgent/crisis situation. Every workplace has its own definition of what this means, so feel free to interpret the word ‘urgent’ in a way that suits your environment. If you’re working across time zones, respect the clever default DND in slack, or build this into your expected response times for email and other modes of communication.
Let’s use Slack (non-DM and general channels) as a way to inform everyone. This means we have to stop using these channels as if they were continuous Whatsapp conversations, and instead add context to discussions so that those coming in later (that day, week, or year) can make sense of what is being shared.
A World With More Intentional, Better Communications
If we start becoming more intentional about being considerate communicators within our teams and with our friends and family, we will start to see some of the principles spread externally. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually our inboxes will be lighter, our Slack channels will be richer with context and information, coming back from vacation won’t be so daunting, and quite possibly, we’ll look forward to answering our phones again.
How do you keep your inbox lean and your startup team in sync? Share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments!
When starting a business, you often see your fair share of challenges. You want to bring in the best talent while, get an edge over the current competition, and so forth. So how can you do this and lead a successful business?
Below are a few seemingly small things that can make a big difference.
1) Get your elevator speech down pat.
An elevator speech is a short, effective explanation of what your company does. Having a quick and effective mantra means to explain to anyone you meet exactly what you do and what value it offers them allows you to take advantage of brief social encounters to spread the word and possibly get noticed by the right people. However, the most important reason to develop your elevator speech is for the mental clarity it will give you. It is a small investment that pays big dividends.
2) Know when to hire and when to do the job yourself.
In the early days, you may have to do most things yourself. However, you need to guard against being penny wise and pound foolish. Hire the job out when doing it yourself will cost you money or opportunities or when hiring an expert will grow your business. Some experts make sense to hire in the early days. A little of their expertise can be critical to making the business work.
3) Use your small size and ability to be nimble to your advantage.
Make sure you understand how your small size can be an asset. One way a small company has an advantage over a large, established company is speed. Your small company can resolve customer concerns swiftly or put projects and programs in place quickly, sometimes before a big company has even put it through their chain of command.
4) Work to acquire enough customers to weather change.
If you have a startup and you provide service for one or two large companies, you may have plenty of work to do and adequate revenue, but may have less security. If that company’s needs change and they stop using your services, you can be suddenly in big trouble. Consider how your business will be affected if one of your major customers leaves.
Starting a company is certainly a lot of work but good information and the right support can help lead you towards a successful business.
Nicholas Karnaze was on stage at Chase Basecamp yesterday. He’s running the startup Stubble & ‘Stache. In addition to a brilliant product origin story full of humorous observations, Nicholas also shared some hard-won wisdom from his entrepreneurial journey.
Here are the five biggest things Nicholas has learned firsthand.
1. Find Your Purpose
What is it that will get you up early every day? What is it that will send you to peaks and sustain you in valleys? What will help you keep your focus? According to Nicholas it was finding his purpose that has led to success.
2. Things Will Always Take Longer Than You Think
Don’t underestimate the time it will take to get stuff done. This includes everything from getting product formulation right, distribution, packaging, and developing supplier partnerships.
3. Carefully Vet Your Partners
This is important even if your partners are friends. A business relationship is different than a friendship. Starting a company will test you and your key relationships in ways that you can’t imagine.
4. Clarify Roles & Responsibilities
Once again, this is especially important if they are friends. Agreeing up front about who owns what and how decisions are made can greatly reduce ambiguity and friction down the road.
5. Get your story straight
It’s the thing that people will engage with. It’s the thing that will help you rise above the clutter.
This inspiring talk was from the Veteran’s track. There are more than 70 programs across eight tracks happening this week at Tampa Bay Startup Week. You can follow along on facebook, twitter, instagram,