Communication Levels

My husband and I just bought a Tesla. It is a very different buying experience – done primarily by website and text message. Being an engineer and a project manager, the car buying decision was made with a lot of research and a spreadsheet comparing the important features of the various options we were considering. But when the decision was reached, the purchase was made with a click of a button.

Approximately 30 seconds after telling me “YES, just click the damn button,” my husband said “OH SHIT. We forgot to use the referral link!”

He knows lots of people who already own Teslas. One of them had given us his referral link, and if we purchased using that link, we would get 1000 free supercharging hours. We wanted those hours! We decided my husband would all Tesla the next day and sort it out, since I had meetings with a customer all morning.

I checked in with my husband after my meetings finished and he said he hadn’t been able to get through to Tesla. So, when I got a call from Tesla about two hours later, I decided I’d go ahead and fix the referral link mistake. I did – at a cost of about 30 minutes of my time.

When I emailed this good news to my husband he replied “but I fixed that 30 minutes after I talked to you.” He wasn’t happy to receive my text about fixing the problem – he was a little bit annoyed because my text interrupted him.

We eventually got the referral link sorted and our new Tesla is in our driveway, so this is all just a good story to highlight the importance of communication. If my husband had just texted me something like “Tesla thing sorted” he would have saved me 30 minutes.

He didn’t text me because he was heading into a meeting, and “anyway, I said I’d sort it so I didn’t see any reason to bother you.”

But, I argued, he had then told me about a roadblock to sorting it: He hadn’t been able to get through to Tesla. So I assumed he hadn’t, in fact, sorted it.

This sort of thing happens all the time on projects, and I think part of the problem is a difference in communication preferences.

Some people, including most of the programmer/engineer types I know, prefer as little communication as possible. They’ll update you if something important changes (usually), but their default mode is “don’t communicate.”

Other people, like me and most of the project managers I know, prefer much more communication. I tell people on my projects that if they aren’t sure if I’ll want to be cc’ed on something, assume that I’ll want to be cc’ed. This is not because I want to overrule their decisions or watch out for mistakes. I trust my team, and anyway, they usually know more about what needs to be done than I do.

I want to be cc’ed because a large part of my job is communicating, and the more information I have, the better I will be at this. I need to be able to answer questions from customers and update other interested parties on project status. If I am up to date on everything that is happening on the project, I can do that without needing to bother the people on my team who are doing the technical work. In short, emails aren’t interrupting my work: They are essential to my work.

My programmer and engineer colleagues (and husband), on the other hand, need large chunks of time when no one is bothering them, so that they can focus on the technical work. Emails interrupt their work.

This is all fine – we have different types of jobs, and so it is no surprise that we have different work preferences.

The problem arises when we assume everyone wants or needs the same level of communication that we do. Once I recognized the pattern to the different communication preferences, I made a small change to how I start a project with a new team. In addition to discussing preferences for meetings and usual work schedules, we also discuss email preferences. Sometimes I have to really work to convince my team that yes, I am happy to be cc’ed on everything – but once they realize that doing so reduces the frequency with which I need to interrupt them for status updates they usually come around.

For my part, I work to figure out what information different types of team members need pushed to them via email or chat and send only that information to them. I also work to make sure the information in our team collaboration tool is accurate and current, so anyone who wants to find out about something can go pull the information they need.

You’d think that after fourteen years of marriage, my husband and I could figure out how to do the same at home!

The cause of all the trouble.

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