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Monday
Apr252011

TMI - Signs of over-communication

One of the questions Darren Draper asks in a series of blog posts about transparency is "Can one be too transparent?" It's a good question. 

But I've been thinking lately about a related but different question: Is there a point when sharing too much information (TMI) can be counter productive to getting one's message across? Are these signs I might be over-communicating?

  • I was having a little talk with another district-level director not long ago and she asked if a set of guidelines from my department had been shared with the staff. I showed her that I had sent the information to everyone in one of our bi-monthly "TechTips" newsletters a few months earlier. "Oh," she replied, "Nobody reads those!"
  • Follow-up discussions with teachers about TechTips usually reveal that while everyone says they save them for later reading, few people actually read them.
  • I titled one of my power-user Gmail Tips "Learn to use filters and never see my name in your inbox again." Nobody laughed when they read it. And everyone seem to pay rapt attention during that part of the workshop.
  • When I introduce myself to a staff member for the first time, the standard response is, "Oh, you're the guy who sends all those e-mails."

Do I send stuff to my staff so often that it gets routinely ignored? How do you determine the right balance of too much and too little information? On which side should one err? 

Perhaps there are signs in one's outside-of-school life of TMI as well...

  • After a peak of several hundred Twitter followers, you are down just a handful.
  • The royalty check for your last book was smaller than your state tax refund.
  • Some articles in The Onion seem more mean than humorous.
  • You glance at your wife's e-mail inbox and find none of your e-mails to her have been opened.

I know I whack "over-communicators" regularly from my RSS feeds (those suffering from blogorrhea), my Twitter account and from Facebook. I regularly suspend getting messages from hyperactive mailing lists like LM_Net. 

Some guidelines?

 

  1. If you had to pay a couple bucks for each e-mail e-mailed, every Twitter tweeted, or every blog post posted, would you still send it?
  2. Are you the sole source of this information or are you just passing it along?
  3. Is the information actually important or just "nice to know?"
  4. Is the message of interest to a majority of those receiving it?
  5. Are you communicating through channels that are "required" or "voluntary?" (We have one school e-mail list that is not optional for district employees to receive; another that is.)
  6. Is the message as succinct, clear and non-technical as possible with the reason for the message clearly communicated? 

 

Send or not to send - what are your criteria?

 

Image source: http://jimmarous.blogspot.com/2010/06/onboarding-communication-how-much-is.html

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Reader Comments (13)

I love this... and it reminds me of an acronym that kids have been using on Facebook for a while, "TLDR"- "too long, didn't read." While I think that over-communication has forced some of us to become really good skimmers, I also think there's a benefit to brevity and being concise. As a self-admitted rambler, both in speaking and in writing, I'm learning that it's good to be short and sweet.

Nice post.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Baldwin

Your blog brings one thing to mind that repeatedly is abused... and that is the "Reply To All" button.

Sometimes it's great! Other times I cannot believe the 20+ Gmail thread or the multitude of messages that barrage my Inbox.

Okay, done venting for now. :-)

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Keltgen

I'm not guilty of sending out too many emails; it's just not a method we use to communicate regularly either in-house or with our learners. However, I constantly worry about the number of tweets I send out. I feel like I send out a lot but I know others who send out much, much more and they don't don't seem to suffer from lack of followers. I know my eyes will skim some tweets if they send out multiples so I try to space mine out, putting at least 30 minutes between them. But I'm definitely guilty of sharing information that's "nice to know." I do try to interact using @replies and RT, so hopefully those don't "count against" me. As far as Facebook goes, I only update that once a day and the blog only gets 2 posts a week, Monday and Thursdays.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGCFLearnFree

Harry Truman said,something like: If you're writing to the president of the United States, keep it to a page. He doesn't have time to read anything longer.

I've used that as a guide, so when I sent a newsletter, it was literally colorful, to the point, and consisted of one emailed page once a week.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJude not HeyJude

Years ago I sent out a memo to all teachers regarding something in the library. The next day my best friend, the reading teacher, asked me a question on the very subject I had addressed in the memo. I told her I just sent her an email regarding that subject the day before. "Oh, I didn't read the entire email." That was a great wake-up call to me -- keep it short and to the point and no more than 4-5 lines. If something pertains specifically to one individual, talk to that person one-on-one. If possible, ask for five minutes at the next faculty meeting (captured audience!).

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

I try to keep it to one batched email a week and as short as possible, but I still know not everyone reads it. A teacher caught me weeding some professional books and was like, "You should try promoting these to teachers before getting rid of them." I pointed out that they were all over 15 years old and hadn't been checked out in years. "Still, how are teachers supposed to know about them unless you tell us?" I said I'd be happy to but she'd have to tell me the best way to do that. If I send a list of them in an email I know nobody will read it. If I feature one a week or so it'll become white noise and ignored as well. Any better ideas? I haven't heard back from her...

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

I've had faculty tell me to my face that "nobody reads email". Not representative of an entire faculty, but enough to get my attention.

How many schools/districts have email guidelines that clearly define use and scope for the faculty?

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

I try to keep my emails to all staff to literally one sentence. I've discovered if they can't read it without scrolling down to see all of it, they don't read it. Heaven forbid I include two topics in one email! If teachers need instructions for something like AR, I direct them to a wiki I created where I post things like that. The teachers who really want it will read it.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Posey

I think you're damned if you do or damed if you don't send out information. I think it's similar to providing training. People scream if you don't send something out or offer a class on how to plug the USB cord from your SMART Board into your computer...but how many actually read the info or show up? I saw this with a Smaller Learning Communities pilot at a school I once worked at. Staff complained about not having time to meet collaboratively with other departments to create cross-curricular units. Then when they received the funding to do it, no one had time to meet collaboratively.

I've seen more spiteful staff members use newsletters as a gottchya moment..."your newsletter said...and it doesn't work."

I TRY to send out email all-calls as little as possible.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Two thoughts -
(1) Are we gulty of the same thing as our students...if it's not graded, it's not done. Why would a teacher read an email unless they are held accountable? Sad but true...
(2) Would you read a weekly email from the history/english/math/science departments?I am sure that they believe that there are numerous topics of importance that should go out to everyone each week.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I think you've hit the nail on the head - it's a fine line when it comes to communicating with others. Sometimes it's just too much of a good thing. And sometimes, it all just depends. What is welcomed on one day, may be resented as too much on another.

I must admit to being an active over-communicator. I think there's something inherent to the library disposition that makes us want to connect people with information.... and if we are part of a diverse learning community, then there can be a lot to share! I'm trying now to refine my approach by personalizing the things I share. This lets others know that I'm thinking specifically of them and it helps me avoid blasting everyone with the same message. I've also leaned towards using Twitter to fulfill my sharing urges. My tweets HAVE to be brief, I can share in real time instead of compiling lots of great resources into a mega-message, and those that want to follow me can do so (or not), as they like.

Given the nature of the current information environment, I wonder what new strategies would help us share in a way that's valued by the receiver?

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Brannock

Thanks, Michelle. Love the acronym. I know a few places to use it myself.

Doug

Hi Jim,

My sense is the Reply to All is a CYA move for a lot of people. "Don't blame me because I let you know." Probably over used and abused.

Doug


Hi Jessica,

Since Tweets are so short, I'll give you a pass on them. Your followers can decide whether the time spent scanning them is worth spending or not. Sounds like you have the rest of you communication life thoughtfully controlled.

Doug

Hi Jude,

I like the one page rule. But may I use a really small font? ;-)

Hi Jim,

I am guessing more and more of us are in a defensive mode from information overload - we don't want to suggest good communication strategies because they might mean more information coming at us. Subliminally away!

Doug


Hi J,

Other than that which falls under our AUP, we don't specifically have email guideline use, but we do have guidelines for the use of our mailing lists. We have one only for school business, one that is the electronic equivalent of the school lounge bulletin board, and one for the teacher's association. I think that helps.

Doug


Doug

Hi Kathy,

Good observation. I also think we assume just because a person has heard something once, they will remember it. What's the old rule? Keep you message simple and repeat it over and over!

Doug


Hi Kelly,

Sounds like a strategy to me. We do a lot with keeping how-to's online as well. Easier than sending attachments, for sure.

Doug

Hi Nathan,

Yup, damned if you do, and damned if you don't is about right.

I suspect stress in the profession is causing much of this bad behavior. At least I hope that's what it is.

Doug


HI Kenn,

Good points. I would hope that most of us now read because we want to be informed rather than because we will be evaluated, but you never know. And you're right, I'd probably not read (and least carefully) the science dept newsletter.

Doug

Hi Kelly,

Individualizing emails is a great idea. Even though I use a general e-mail list at times, I often preface my remarks with something like: Of interest to elementary math teachers...

Didn't think about librarians being compulsive sharers. I think you're on to something!

Doug

April 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Whoa! I haven't though about what I share or tweet. In my work emails, I try to be brief because I've encountered the same issues of recipients not reading/deleting the long message. I do not use reply all unless everyone on the list needs to know.
My tweets are a different story. I use RT often because my followers may not see the tweet when I do. Maybe I shouldn't. I'll have to rethink and adjust that activity.
Thanks for making me think about what I do and reflect on whether or not I give TMI.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRodney

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