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Conversation Fail - More Information Isn't Better

More isn’t better. Longer conversations don’t lead to better communication. Additional information doesn’t lead to better understanding.

Unnecessary details in a conversation can just as easily create confusion as clarity.

I was guilty of that this week.

My editor and I met to discuss the plan for editing the 32 interviews I completed during my 10 days in Spring Training. It’s a conversation we’ve had every year for the last 10 years and something we’d been talking about for the last month. I thought we were on the same page. I expected a quick, easy conversation and was floored and frustrated when he suddenly had objections. 

I couldn’t figure out what changed and why we suddenly felt like adversaries instead of colleagues and friends who can practically read each other’s minds because we’ve worked together for so many years. 

And then I saw it. The look on his face and the stack of papers in his hand.

In an effort to be helpful I’d given Marcus the full transcripts of those interviews - all 45 pages. And it was way too much information.

Instead of making things easier I created a sense of overwhelm and confusion. Those 45 pages are hugely important for what I do in creating content, but all Marcus needs to execute that strategy are his specific edits. He doesn’t need the same kind information or the same amount of information that I do.

More isn’t better.

In our value-add, upsell type of world it’s easy to be lured into believing more equals better. More bonus features equal better bang for your buck. More access equals better value. More information leads to better communication. It’s just not true.

Effective communication always hinges on presenting information in the way the other person is able to receive it. Otherwise you’re just talking to hear yourself talk.

That approach allows you to cross things off your to-do list, but it doesn’t guarantee productivity.

3 Ways to Avoid Information Overload in Conversations At Work

Know who you’re talking to – and how they want to be talked to. In general, there are two basic communication preferences data driven vs. connection driven (Thanks Deborah Tannen and her extensive research on the subject.) Data-driven people want stats, facts and metrics. Connection-driven people are more interested in the end result and being able to see the big picture. In other words, more data isn’t always better and more details aren’t always helpful.

 

Watch the clock. Research tells us that attention spans are shrinking, but even without the impact of social media everyone you talk to has certain tolerance for how long they’re willing to engage in a conversation. In general, data-driven people are more likely to engage in shorter conversations. Once they have the information they need they’re done paying attention (Think 3-5 minute conversations.) The opposite tends to be true for connection driven people. For them, details deepen the connection so conversations that last upwards of 20 minutes are not only tolerated but enjoyed.

There’s a big difference between those two groups so make sure you’re paying attention to their attention level. Individuals default to and act on their personal preferences. With that in mind it shouldn’t be hard to identify who talks more and who talks less in your circle of friends or colleagues.

 

Make the ask. If you’re not sure how your colleagues or clients want to receive information just ask AND make sure there’s only one right answer. A yes/no question is the only way you’ll get clarity in this scenario.

Your question should sound something like this, “I printed off 45 pages of transcripts and left them on your desk. Is that helpful information for you?” or “I just emailed you the first-quarter results, is that the format you prefer?” Providing an either/or choice narrows down the options and increases the likelihood you’ll be able to identify the most effective way to communicate.

 

One final reminder. More isn’t better unless that’s how you describe your intentionality in communicating effectively at work.

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