A lot of my coaching and workshops come with a big focus on communication. “But I thought you were a time management and productivity coach??” Yep, you’re right, I am.
But most of us live and work with other people. We interact with them. We rely on them, and them on us. And, so, to get things done and to use our time well, good communication is necessary. But it doesn’t always come so easily. It can be difficult to muster up the courage to have a conversation that might be a bit uncomfortable. And it can be hard to find the right words.
As a result, there’s a “time-suck” that many of us face that we might not even be aware of: overthinking and ruminating about communications. You might not think that ruminating over what someone else is thinking (or might be thinking) about something you are doing (or not doing) has much to do with productivity. But it does! I bet you spend A LOT of time wondering what other people are thinking about you. And then thinking about IF you should say something and HOW to say it.
So, today, let’s talk about how and why to just say something, when you feel a situation is awkward, or fraught, or you’re just worried about what someone might be thinking.
When things feel uncomfortable, there’s often a solution right in front of your face. And it’s to communicate proactively. When something is awkward or uncomfortable you could spend a whole lot of time fretting and procrastinating. Or you could decide that having a potentially awkward conversation is a much faster path to where you want to go. Which is not worrying about what someone else is thinking about you.
When we bias towards action, towards communication, we can save ourselves a heck of a lot of time and stress. We can avoid speculation. We can avoid making up stories. (Because, when we don’t know, that’s what our minds do; we try to fill in the gaps.) And having the conversation takes way less time and is less scary than you might think.
But before we get into the practical, tactical tips about how to communicate, I want to share a harsh truth; one that’s so easy to forget:
No one is thinking about you
We think about ourselves way, WAY more than other people think about us. So if you’re worried about what something might be thinking about something you are doing, the chances are they’re not thinking anything at all. They are much more focused on themselves.
Think I’m wrong? What if we turn the tables? How much time do YOU spend thinking about your coworkers and why it’s taking them a little bit longer than normal to reply to your email? My guess is “not much”. You don’t have time for that! You’ve got your own life to lead, your own issues to handle, and your own time to manage.
Trust me, the easiest, fastest way to stop wasting your own time and energy fretting about what someone might be thinking is just to tell them proactively what’s going on.
Now, lots of times when I’m working with clients I’m helping them set boundaries around their own time. And setting (or resetting) boundaries can be a little scary sometimes because it is true that if you change your behavior drastically, people might notice. (So, they might actually be thinking about you JUST a little bit 🙂 ).
And you might be worried about what the’ll think. (Because you’re human.)
For instance, if you’re making the bold (but so worth it) decision to turn off email and Slack notifications and instead process messages a few times a day (a strategy that will gain you tons of time due to fewer distractions), you might be concerned that people who you used to answer 10 seconds after they messaged might think you’re now slacking off. But you’re not. You know you’re not. But you’re still wondering what they’re thinking.
So what if instead of wasting emotional energy worrying about what they think (or worse, continuing to be constantly distracted by pings and dings), you just told them what you were doing? Wouldn’t that make things easier? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable making this change? And here’s the kicker, you can let your tech communicate for you!:
Use your Slack status
If you’re turning off Slack for awhile so you can get some head’s down work done, change your Slack away message to something like “Head’s down on project X; I’ll be coming up for air around 4pm and will respond then. If you need me urgently, please call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX!”
Now, if your coworker had an away message like that, would you think any less of them? No, you’d likely be impressed. You might even be a little jealous of their boundary setting. And you’d feel supported because you’d know how to reach them in an emergency.
Use your auto-responder or email signature
Are communications in your office more email-focused? Well, you can use an OoO reply, or your email signature to let your coworkers know when they should expect to hear back from you and how to reach you in an emergency.
I don’t check email on the weekends, so my own OoO reply says “It’s the weekend! I’ll reply next week.” But you could alternatively add a line to your email signature that says “I process email a few times a day, during normal business hours. If you need me more urgently, please call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”
If you’re worried that someone might be thinking something specific, try one of these phrases to get you started:
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I wanted to let you know that I’m… Do you have any concerns about this?”
“I’m making some changes to my work practices to help me up-level my time management and productivity, to that end, I’m trying X and I just wanted to let you know.”
Now, there’s a slightly different type of communication that we also spend too much time worrying about. And that’s when we have to have a difficult conversation with someone else. We know we need to say something, because we don’t want a molehill to become a mountain. Or we need to give someone some feedback.
But knowing that it needs to happen doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. So you think about it. Over and over and over again. Sometimes you’ve had a conversation in your head so many times that it feels like you’ve already had it in real life!
So the next time you need to address something head on, or you need to start an (awkward) conversation, and you’re just not sure how, here’s some language you can swipe:
“I’m not sure how to say this so I’ll just say it…”
“It’s important for me to say this, even if I get it wrong…”
“This is hard for me to say, but I’m willing to be uncomfortable because I care about you and….”