What subway clocks reveal about great communication

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Reader,

As my students know, I talk a lot about communication. That's no accident. Success in most areas of your life is limited by your ability to communicate effectively.

  • Your career: Are you a trusted advisor to your boss or a worker bee (or a liability)?
  • Your relationships: Can you and your partner discuss emotionally loaded subjects (expectations, kids, spending, in-laws, pre-nups, etc.) without burning bridges?
  • Your business: Do your followers look forward to hearing from you or not?

One of the most important strategies for effective communication is keeping people in the loop. Most of the time, if someone gets angry or confused, it means you've done a poor job communicating with them.

I was reminded of this while flipping through some of my bookmarked reads. This New York Magazine article gives a unique explanation of why proactive communication is so important (emphasis is mine):

"...waiting is psychologically painful. In 1985, psychologist Edgar Elías Osuna established the two specific factors most contributing to this discontent: the minutes already lost to the wait and the uncertainty of how much delay remains. This isn't terribly surprising; we'd expect that the longer one must wait, the more stress one experiences. But his data also revealed something else, which is that this increasing stress response is effectively canceled out when the individual knows in advance when service is likely to come.

"Anyone who has taken the subway in the past year or so and has tilted his head skyward to one of the MTA's new 'Public Address Customer Information Screens' and their real-time train-arrival information has experienced this firsthand. You still aren't going where you need to be going, and thanks to the fare hikes, you are paying more for that privilege, but you look at the countdown clock and it's somehow okay. The MTA must know this, which accounts for why it is still installing the monitors even amid its budget crisis."

Think about how this applies to your communication:

  • When your client (or boss) goes days without hearing from you, they assume the worst. Even if you're diligently working on their project, the sheer absence of contact stresses them out. 
  • I have fired technically skilled people for not keeping me in the loop, costing them tens of thousands of dollars.
  • That's why even a far-off deadline like "I'll be done in 2 weeks — on Friday the 22nd at noon" is much more comforting than silence. 
  • Sure, your boss or client would rather it be done yesterday, but at least there's a date circled on their calendar and they can stop worrying now. 

Keep this in mind the next time you start a project.

Signature

P.S. If you've used this strategy to improve your work, reply to this email and let me know what you did. Include the exact email if you have it!

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