Is Your Communication Toolbox Growing?

Vanessa Hill

Take a quick look in my garage and you will see boxes filled with tools.  At first glance, many of them appear to be doubles of the same tool.  You may ask, ‘why so many of the same tools?’  I would answer, ‘take a closer look.  They are similar, not the same’.  When working on different cars, each one may require a slightly different tool depending on the task.  If we do not have that specific variation in our toolbox, my husband and I research new tool options, and then pick up the best one for the job at hand.

You may approach communication the same way.  Communication comes in many styles and forms, and even if people work for the same company, under the same roof, not everyone communicates the same way.  Over time, you will learn which specific communication method works best for you with each of your co-workers.  Once the preferred method is established, you should store that knowledge in your toolbox.

As a marketing coordinator at a Silicon Valley trial firm, I need to have many tools in my communication toolbox to help team members, clients, and vendors be successful in the high-speed and client-driven environment of trial practice.

Below are some communication ideas.  Try adding them to your toolbox.  Using the correct tool makes your work more efficient and pleasant, and it also provides the best results. 

clock and work image1.  Time is valuable.  Be clear from the start.

Time is valuable; make sure the communication method you are using is effective.  If you let people know your preferences for quick questions or long communications, they will usually tell you theirs. 

2.  Guess what?  Email is not the only way to communicate.

Email, emails, and more emails.  We have emails coming out our ears.  Why? Often it is the easiest way to communicate for the sender – no need to get up and walk to another office, or even to pick up the phone.  Emailing has benefits, but it is not always the best communication tool for you or the receiver.  The person you are trying to reach may be one who chooses not to have email up on the screen while working on a project, or maybe chooses not to look at emails at all.  Be clear.  Ask team members how best to reach out to them.  During business hours, they may prefer you stop by their desks or call them on the phone.

3.  The preferred time of day for meetings and style.

An in-house attorney for a large tech company once mentioned at a panel presentation that he did not always want to hold a meeting first thing in the morning, even if his schedule showed time open early in the day.  There are many reasons this might be true.  Maybe he is not a morning person, or perhaps he does morning drop-off for his kids, or he needs his morning workouts.  We should take note of others’ life rhythms and work style before scheduling meetings.  Take the time to find out, and ask the simple question.  Which day or what time of day do you prefer for meetings?  Once you know this, you can then schedule the meeting when everyone is ready and able to be productive. 

4.  Know if they prefer digital version or hard version.

For some old fossils, hard copies are still a thing.  Some team members like hard copies for document reviews because reviewing on paper gives their eyes a break from the screens.  Others may prefer to keep documents digital so these items may be viewed from different devices, or be environmentally friendly.  Once you know a person’s preferred style of reading, you can start the meeting with hard copies in hand, or not.  Happily, you will waste no more time guessing.   

5.  Making the requests.

Learn to use the language your subject prefers.  Do they enjoy a little humor with the serious business at hand?  In these difficult times, you may choose to use some marketing ploys to get the team members’ attention (especially for non-billable internal requests) by opening your email with a quote, a cartoon, a personalized meme, or a short fun fact (but always keep it professional).  I have been known to use Dilbert cartoons from time to time. 

I knew one partner who was getting a lot of requests to review items, so I took some extra time to find funny (safe) cartoons from his favorite comic strip, Dilbert, and place them in the opening of my internal email requests.  Those simple cartoons allowed my emails to jump out of his in-box.  Understanding his sense of humor helped me get a quick turnaround. 

6.  Express gratitude when someone gives you their time.

When you ask someone to take time to assist you, it should be acknowledged. We should never push more work on a team member just to get it off our own plate.  Let the recipient of your requests know that you respect them, and that time devoted to your project is never taken for granted.  A simple thank you goes a long way. (Chocolate is good, too.)

7.  Feel the temperature of the “room” or “virtual room”

It seems obvious, but sometimes we may want to play out this emoji… 

When you attend a meeting, read the room.  If you notice team members are up to their eyes in deadlines, do not mention to-do items that can wait until next week’s meeting.  Figure out a way to make your speaking clear and concise.  Perhaps kudos are due to someone for attending the meeting.  It may not be on the agenda, but it may provide a needed boost for the morale of the meeting.  Which leads to the next tip…

8.  Share and discuss positive news.

We all could use a little more positive news.  Be one of those people who makes sure to share positive news in meetings, in the hallways, and at events.  For some reason, it seems easier to focus on what needs fixing which may be helpful but should not be the only messaging you share with the team, clients, or vendors.  If someone is being a Rockstar, let them know how you value that person’s craft and contribution to the team.  This includes superiors.  (They are human too.)   

9.  Not Listening = Miscommunication

Listen, so the person speaking is heard.  But also, speak to be heard. Be clear, direct, and kind.  Always treat your colleagues and the business with respect.  Miscommunication may cost the firm, and your colleagues and clients, time, money, and headache.  Sadly, miscommunication is easier than one may think, and it usually starts when listening stops. 

Listening is both verbal and non-verbal.  Think back to your last video conference.  Could you see the person was able to hear you, but not listening because he or she was clearly typing or looking at emails during the discussion?  The individual could hear your voice, but probably not your message.  Taylor your communication style to keep others engaged.  Your timing, tone, the structure of your questions, and their style could affect the outcome.

toolboxLike the ever-growing toolbox in our garage at home, my communication toolbox at work also continues to evolve and grow.  And there is always room for improvement and knowledge.  Communication may be difficult, but understanding and implementing a few simple, positive, communication styles will help the business, and you.  With an open mind and the correct tools at the ready, you will maximize your communication effectiveness and cause a positive ripple effect in the office and with your clients.


[Photos: 1. iStock; 2. Vanessa Hill]

About the author Vanessa Hill

Vanessa oversees and implements the firm’s marketing programs and keeps partners abreast of current trends and strategies in legal marketing.  She serves as event coordinator for all firm events at Levi Stadium and the SAP Center of San Jose.