If you follow me on Twitter, you have likely seen me post something like this:
You’ve probably seen it more than once. But you’ve only seen it an order of magnitude less than I’ve thought it, because if I posted it multiple times each day I would be part of the problem. Typically when I tweet a variation on this theme, it’s because someone has been lazy, and has stolen my time, and the time of others.
Consider these scenarios.
Have you ever forwarded a lengthy email thread to a group, with “FYI” or “this is interesting” as your only addition, without adding a summary of the thread? If you have, then each person who receives your mail needs to read through the thread to understand what is important for them.
Have you ever sent an email with a meaningless and non-descriptive subject line that’s unrelated to the message content? If you have, then each person who receives your mail needs to read through the message to understand your intent and to prioritize any follow-up actions.
Have you ever sent an email that includes a document or link to a valuable resource, but you don’t include any relevant search terms in the subject or body? If you have, then when your recipients need to find and use that link or document they will not be able to easily search to locate it. You’ve forced each recipient to implement their own discovery process.
Have you ever sent an email that references a shared resource like a web site or an Excel workbook on a SharePoint site, and didn’t include a link to that resource? If you have, then each recipient has needed to manually locate the shared resource – you have wasted the time of every person who received the mail. And to make matters worse, your laziness has introduced ambiguity, and increased the likelihood that people will end up using the wrong resources.
Have you ever sent an email that includes a general description of a specific problem for which you are requesting assistance? If you have, then you are offloading the responsibility for identifying the problem cause to the recipients – and this often means that multiple people are duplicating the effort that you should have put in proactively.
Have you ever sent an email that includes an acronym that you have not explicitly defined? If you have, then you’re again forcing the recipients to do the heavy lifting to figure out what you mean, when you could have saved them this effort by putting in a little effort on your own…
Have you ever sent an email related to an event – a technical conference “call for content” announcement, for example – and you haven’t bothered to include the event dates in the mail? If you have, then you have forced every recipient to look up this information before they can act on your mail.
Have you ever asked someone for help solving a technical problem or error, but you haven’t clearly articulated the scope of the problem? Maybe you couldn’t even be bothered to include key details like error messages? If this is the case, you’ve very clearly told the people who could be helping you that you do not value their time, and that you are choosing to make your problem their problem.
Of course, the impact of this laziness isn’t limited to email – email just happens to be where I personally experience it the most. My most recent periodic reminder came when someone on Twitter asked for help, and included an undefined acronym. By the time I noticed the conversation, three or four members of the Power BI team had replied, either asking for clarification or proposing possible answers if the acronym meant what they thought it meant. (I did not join that conversation.)
The common theme of these scenarios – and many more like them – is that a small effort to be mindful in your communication can help reduce the cost on the people with whom you are communicating. If you choose not to put in that effort, your lazy communication is stealing time and productivity from your teammates, peers, and colleagues.
Is that what you want?
Each of these bad habits is easily and simply corrected. In most situations it only takes a moment to clarify the meaning and context of your message, to add a subject, or summary, or link. A moment of your time can save many minutes wasted by every person who receives your communication.
Will you choose to spend that time, and to respect the time of others?
Or will you steal their time?
 I wouldn’t recommend it.
 Most recent when I started writing this post, anyway. That was back in early November. It’s taken me so long to finish and publish this post because people keep stealing my time.
 If it is, please don’t tell me.
3 thoughts on “Lazy communication is theft”
Matthew, great article!
I’ll add one example what I don’t like:
When somebody asks me something new via email, but he does it by replying to a random unrelated (often latest) correspondence he had with me. And then I wonder for couple of moments how are topics related. Not a big time loss, but still annoying.
Yeah, that one gets me too.
– Error messages containing an 8-character hex number and next to no useful information
– Error messages that are way too generic, and no pointer to a detailed log file
– Poor UX design, especially when UI elements are used interchangeably
– Failure of imagination by designers/programmers when developing their black boxes, making the troubleshooting a nuke’n’pave process
– Helldesk systems that can’t route you optimally to the specialist support you need
– All MTA generated errors
– Website designers who don’t understand DNS, MX records, MTAs and systems security
Sorry, your post triggered me – I’ll step away from the keyboard and take a sedative…