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The Not-So-Subtle Art of Overcommunication

We live in the age of communication, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to communicate the plan to everyone in the organization, right? Wrong. When you were young, how many times did your mom have to ask you to do something before you did it? How many times do you have to ask your own children to do something before they start arguing about why they have to do it, never mind actually start doing it?

Those are fun questions. But now let’s get serious. How many really good listeners do you know? I’m sad to say that although I have a lot of amazing people in my life, really good listeners are rare. Even most of my advisers and mentors—people I turn to for advice when an opportunity emerges or I am in a crunch to deal with a problem—are not great listeners. How many good listeners do you know?

Do you consider yourself a good listener? Do you check your email or text messages during meetings and conference calls? Do you ever find yourself thinking about something that happened yesterday or something you are looking forward to tonight instead of listening to someone who is speaking to you?

Most people think they are better at listening to others than they are. Research suggests that the average person listens with only 25 percent efficiency. That’s a lot we are missing. If I’m an average listener, that means I miss 75 percent of what my colleagues or significant other tell me. It’s astounding, really. Even worse, it means I probably miss 75 percent of what my children are trying to tell me.

If you have a child and you are an average listener, over the course of a lifetime you have missed three-quarters of what your son or daughter is trying to say to you. Even if you are twice as good at listening as the average listener, you’ve still missed half of what your child is trying to share with you. No wonder we have misunderstandings and disagreements.

If you want to be a better listener, I could tell you to be more empathetic, eliminate distractions so that you are present, remember you are not perfect, ask questions to gain further insight, not run from being uncomfortable, not change the subject, try not to be judgmental, not interrupt, and pause before responding. But what it all comes down to is getting yourself out of the way. It is not about you.

Why are most people such poor listeners? What is the key to becoming a great listener?

We get in the way. We think about ourselves rather than the person speaking. We get absorbed in how what is being said relates to us, rather than trying to work out how it relates to the person speaking. When we are preoccupied with ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, experiences, fears, ambitions, and everyday life all create noise and distractions that prevent us from really hearing what people are trying to tell us.

Listening is difficult. It’s important to acknowledge that, because when we don’t acknowledge that something is difficult, we don’t allocate the necessary resources to succeed in that activity. To be a great listener requires patience, focus, awareness, and most of all it requires us to set aside our own agenda. It’s natural that we see and experience life through the lens of self, and it’s normal that we listen to what people are saying through that lens. But when we are able to set aside our own agenda and needs and focus on the other person, our listening skills increase exponentially. The best listeners set themselves aside.

To listen is an art and another essential life skill we fail to teach our young people. I am convinced that it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of listening as a life skill. Recently, a high school student asked me, “If you were me, what two skills would you work on improving?” I told him, “Decision-making and listening.” These two skills intersect with every single aspect of life and business.

As we set out to communicate your Strategic Plan to the organization, it is essential to keep in mind the importance of listening, and to remember that people in general are not great listeners. You have something very important—your organization’s Strategic Plan—that you need to communicate very clearly to your team or employees. The reality is that communicating a Strategic Plan in most organizations is like a huge game of Chinese Whispers. The point is—it is incredibly difficult to convey a message to a group of people. In fact, it usually requires a strategy of its own.

The solution is overcommunication.

One of my goals as a keynote speaker is for people to be able to remember a year later what I spoke about. Who was your keynote speaker at last year’s event? Most people struggle to remember who the speaker was, let alone what he or she spoke about.

Repetition is your best friend when it comes to overcommunication. The truth is, most people are too proud to use this tool. But it works. We know this in our businesses. When it comes to branding and marketing, repetition is essential; failing to use it would guarantee failure. In fact, even in our marketing efforts most organizations change the message too often, because they lack the discipline to wait. We can’t wait to change the message. It takes real discipline and humility to stick to one message and overcommunicate that message. A marketing message will seem stale to a marketing team long before that same message has reached deep into its target market, and an organizational message will seem stale to a leader long before it has reached deep into his or her team.

The concept of overcommunication is not about the quantity of information you share. It’s about the number of times important information is conveyed.

If people don’t know the plan, they can’t execute it passionately.


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