When to Chew vs. Swallow: Communication Tips

by | Nov 14, 2009 | Blog | 1 comment

Gustav & Santa & cabbage 006

I don’t chew my cabbage twice”–a favorite saying of one of my late great aunts. (She probably learned it from Ernest T Bass on the American TV sitcom The Andy Griffith Show.)

My great aunt didn’t believe in wasting her time or yours repeating things she thought were worth hearing the first time. If you didn’t pay attention to her, tough. You missed it. (If you didn’t do what she requested, though, she violated her own rule and told you again–sternly.)

How does this saying play out today?

If you adopt this philosophy and spare the air, can you get through the clutter? And if you’re brief, to the point and reinforce as needed, do you risk being considered curt, cold and inconsiderate?

Furthermore, what do you do about technical glitches, multi-tasking snafus, and style preferences? They all can contribute to whether you chew your cabbage multiple times or swallow and move on. For example:

Technical glitches. Last month, my email marketing company sent out two messages on my behalf within minutes of one another, my scheduled October message and my old September message. Do I apologize or let it go? If I apologized, I ran the risk of a double mea culpa and sending out a total of four messages that day, which seemed worse than my original crime. I decided to let it go and instead explain later, or immediately if asked.

Multi-tasking mishaps. The relatively tiny screens of smart phones–compared to PCs–may prevent people from fully comprehending your entire message the first time, especially if they’re furtively glancing at it during meetings. (Guilty as charged!) So when do you double check with them to make sure they not only got it, but really got it and know what you need them to do by when?

Style preferences. What if you’re a texter who’s working with a colleague who prefers face-to-face meetings over the phone and uses email as little as possible? And by the way, your colleague only is available by phone between 6 – 8 am and 1-1:45 Monday, Wednesday and Friday? How do you sync up your styles so both of you can tolerate each other’s habits and do quality work on time?

My current rules of thumb for coping with these situations are that I try to:

  • Take time at the beginning of a project to talk about each others’ preferred communication mode and decide the extent to which we’re going to try to honor them. (For example, I hate the phone, but I’m willing to schedule phone calls.)
  • Avoid contributing to information overload. This means I don’t send repeat messages or content-free communication, such as “Hi” or “Thanks.” Instead, I try to make any new messages add something of value, such as “Here’s a link to an article about that issue we discussed last week.” And then I’ll ask, “How are you doing with the deadline?”
  • Cut my colleagues and me some slack, recognizing that we’re living in an ADD world and are juggling more balls than we can keep in the air. So if I haven’t heard back about something important, I’ll try to use their preferred communication mode and ask about that one particular item.

How are you doing chewing your cabbage?

1 Comment

  1. Terri Moss

    Thank you for your great insights, Liz, about handling information overload and understanding how to work/communicate with others. I was at a new client meeting and heard her talk about preferring to “pick up the phone” rather than sending an email. “Boo,” I thought to myself, as I much prefer email. However, I made a mental note and that’s how we’ll work together. I’m also guilty as charged of sending an email that just says “Thanks.” It seems that an acknowledgment of an email is important, but not enough to clutter an inbox. Thanks again for these great ideas!

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