The Art of Overcommunication

Max Brenssell
January 24, 2022
Max Brenssell,
Co-Founder @ Spoke

We spend over half of our working hours searching for and sharing information: responding to messages, chasing progress updates, and keeping stakeholders in the loop. It seems counterintuitive then, that the solution to cutting through this noise could be more communication. Not everyone is sold on the idea of overcommunication. Swamping people with too much information can lead to apathy.

But as with all good communication, context is key (you wouldn’t message your boss in the same tone you use with your grandma). The same holds true for overcommunication. In the right situation, overcommunicating can streamline information sharing in the workplace and encourage team alignment – giving us the context we need to work effectively.

Here are some ideas for how to overcommunicate, without overwhelming.

What is overcommunication?

Going by the dictionary definition – excessive and unnecessary communication – overcommunication sounds like something to avoid, especially at work. Needless meetings and irrelevant updates that only cause confusion or disengagement: this is what overcommunicating looks like when done badly. So why is it relevant?

The success of any organization is built on workplace communication. Many people found that internal communications suffered, while leaders grappled with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. As companies continue to introduce hybrid and distributed working models, a clear communications culture is even more important. And it’s difficult to get right.

If done well, overcommunicating can help teams stay aligned and improve collaboration, keeping people on the same page when working across different locations. Overcommunication doesn’t have to mean information overload – flooding your teams’ inboxes with emails or scheduling long meetings where key points are lost in the detail. At Spoke we overcommunicate to reinforce our mission and internal values, as well as on key processes and tools, to keep everyone aligned.

Overcommunication can help to avoid misunderstandings within teams. Fostering a proactive communications culture – where it’s standard to offer regular Q&A sessions or quick check-ins to make sure key information is understood – is essential for clarity around knowledge sharing. It brings teams into alignment and saves people the trouble of searching for context further down the line.

People can easily forget things they’ve only read once (we’re only human, after all) and it takes time to absorb new knowledge. Overcommunication keeps the most important points from slipping through the gaps in our memories. Repeating the same information over time allows companies to reinforce messages and helps when sharing complex ideas.

Sounds good, right? But not everyone is convinced that overcommunicating works.

One of the strongest arguments people have against overcommunication is the level of distraction it can cause. Our days are punctuated by meetings, notifications, and emails that require an urgent response, making it difficult to find time to focus on our work.

Another criticism is that overcommunicating often leads to information being shared too widely. It’s important to consider whether a message is relevant for everyone it’s being communicated to.

Engagement can also suffer when organizations overcommunicate. We become overwhelmed when presented with a flood of information – too much of it to process – and ignore messages altogether. This means key points get missed, and people end up chasing updates.

The link between all of these criticisms is poor timing, and a lack of appropriate structures.

How to make overcommunication work for your team

Overcommunication can have so many benefits. It means feedback gets incorporated into projects as the work is ongoing, team members are supported when they’re struggling, issues are solved quickly when bringing in new processes, successes are shared across the company – the list goes on. Here’s what organizations can do to see these benefits.

Push information to stakeholders so they don’t have to request it from you. Everyone works differently, and there’s no set frequency around communications that will suit every team – particularly in hybrid or fully-remote settings where people are working across multiple locations and time zones. It’s hard to find the right balance between under and overcommunicating, but if people are regularly coming to you for updates, you might need to communicate more often.

Establish communication routines. From my experience leading cross-functional projects at N26 and Circ (now Bird), routine is essential to successful overcommunication. When people know they’re going to receive updates at a certain time, they’re less likely to chase you for information. By sticking to this schedule, you can create a communication pattern that means you’ll have fewer interruptions (it also gives you an auto-answer for when people request updates). The trick is to be consistent, so stakeholders can build their routines.

Consider your audience. Who are you communicating with, and how much do they need to know? Sending a 500-word update to c-level probably won’t give the right level of detail. Equally, writing an essay-length email – detailing everything you’re currently working on – in answer to a simple query isn’t helpful.

Set boundaries around communication. Plan when to use synchronous communications, and when async would be more useful. Have regular hours when you’re available to chat and block off times when you have no meetings, so your teams can work undisturbed.

Here at Spoke we place a focus on routines, for example around releases. Releases happen every other Thursday around 11 AM and are documented in the #releases channel on Slack. This kind of overcommunication – or better put, proactive communication – keeps everyone in the know, even in our small team. People have stopped asking our tech team when the release will be out – instead, they know to look in the #releases channel.

Last but not least, leaders need to repeat themselves to drive a message home. Only when you get sick of repeating a message are people beginning to hear you. No one wants to feel lectured to, but being heard and understood is an ongoing process that requires overcommunication.

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