In the workplace, we all depend on each other as a team. Our customers count on us to communicate and deliver what we promise. When a project hits an avoidable speed bump (like last-minute calls about missing parts), what are you supposed to tell your customer? He’ll want to know why he isn’t getting the bad news until the deadline date.
Ninety percent of the time the delay is caused by a simple communication breakdown between manufacturer and vendor, client and manufacturer, or amongst your own staff.
So what causes the breakdowns? And better yet, how can you nip them in the bud.
The art of communicating and keeping a commitment
Often, it boils down to integrity. Integrity means doing what you say you will do, when you say you will do it, in the manner expected. Integrity doesn’t mean you have to be perfect at all times. Not too many of us can claim that degree of accomplishment!
Meeting deadlines is a matter of honoring your word. If and when there is a breakdown, integrity means acknowledging the breakdown and recommitting – or withdrawing a promise when it becomes clear you are not going to fulfill it.
In a nutshell, communicating with integrity involves the following six steps:
1. Make a commitment
2. Communicate what you will deliver and when
3. Do everything you can to meet that commitment
4. Don’t accept less and always strive to deliver more
5. If you learn that you cannot meet your commitment, then immediately communicate that you cannot deliver and make a new commitment
6. Work on these steps over and over until you master them.
Set an example of what project communication should look and sound like at work. Believe me, every time you adhere to this communication process you’ll get better at it, and so may your vendors, clients and staff.
Timely response moves your project forward
Clear communication involves responsiveness. Breakdowns can occur if we simply “assume” that someone got our message. That assumption leads us to wait — and wait — for a response to a message never received.
Instead, follow up if you haven’t heard from someone about a message you sent. Maybe your message got lost. A little bit of follow-up can go a long way toward clarifying and ensuring that each task of your project is on track.
Similarly, if you are on the receiving end of an email or voice mail message, immediately acknowledge that you got someone’s message. A quick “thanks” or “got it” can suffice.
If the message requires a more thoughtful, formal response, still let the person know you’ve received their communication and that you will get back to them at such and such a time with all the details. (And then do get back to them as you’ve promised!)
Whenever you make a commitment, keep it.
As soon as you learn you will not be able to deliver, communicate, and then make a new commitment. That way, everyone knows where they stand and can plan accordingly. Keep practicing this system and you’ll find that projects move along more smoothly, and even that your stress levels go down.
It’s a little like a bill being due. Usually, you pay right on time. If you can’t pay, you let the vendor know right away and generally they can make an allowance. If instead you simply fail to pay, pretty soon you’ll find the collectors after you, plus adding more stress to the situation.
In a world of overcommitting, keep communicating
We live in a world of overcommitting. Sometimes breakdowns occur because people expect or demand more in business. Keeping up requires prioritization and choosing our response to stress.
Not all of us prioritize well. Having too many balls in the air can result in crash landings. If that happens, remember that you can choose how you respond. Do you allow yourself to feel overwhelmed? Or frustrated? What if you choose to feel empowered instead?
What helps is to keep communicating.
If there’s too much on your plate, ask your boss to help you prioritize. Always communicate respectfully, not from a sense of frustration or threat. Take an objective step back from your duties and make sense of them. What are your responsibilities? What needs to be done? When? Then make a commitment and follow through.
These communication principles apply to meetings and conference calls, too. The purpose of meetings and conference calls is to exchange information quickly. You can keep things flowing by communicating effectively and being prepared before you attend:
2. Be proactive — anticipate what others will need and be prepared to provide that information
The bottom line is knowing what your responsibilities are, making a commitment, and following through. When you do, you’ll find that people are eager to do business with you. They know they can count on you. And when they can count on you, it makes their job easier.