Stop Shortcutting Your Communication

Why being direct isn't always the most effective form of communication in the workplace | Greatest Story for Business

Say what you want about being precise - cutting to the quick isn't always the best strategy.

As we're heading into the final debate, I've been thinking about the ins and outs of effective (and professional) communication.

A story keeps coming to mind.

Several years ago when I worked for Disney, I was meeting with my (then) manager at the time and an intern who was on our team for the summer. My manager wanted to review a project I'd put together and discuss next action steps. From the start of the meeting, she asked me if she could just go straight to her thoughts and recommendations. 

It was the type of question that wasn't really a question. So by default, I said sure.

She proceeded to get down to brass tacks. She eviscerated my work, page by page, with that cliche red pen. I sat there, humiliated for about 15 minutes in front of our college intern. At a certain point, I couldn't take it and got openly defensive and pushed back a bit on some of her comments. It wasn't my best or most professional moment, but I felt cornered. Maybe you can relate.

I still remember how it felt - to have someone tear apart my work so publicly - never bothering to say anything I got right or anything that wasn't a change or a criticism. Certainly, it'd happened before and it's happened since, but that story really does stick with me.

This story always reminds me not to "shorthand" it with people. 


What does it mean to "shorthand" it with someone?

Technically "shorthand" refers to a means of writing quickly, using abbreviations, often used for taking notes.

When I say "shorthand," I mean, "getting straight to the point, to the complete ignorance of another person's feelings and value."

My manager "shorthanded" it with me when she cut straight to the point. She didn't acknowledge any of the work I'd done. She didn't give any positive feedback. She cut straight to the work - the changes that needed to be made. From her perspective, I do understand she was doing what felt most efficient and she'd covered her bases by asking for my "okay." But I think you can see in practice, that this approach can be a disaster.

While I've given you a professional example, this can apply to your personal life too. I take the term "shorthand" from my marriage, actually. My husband Gus and I coined it when we sometimes find ourselves in an argument. Often, we are "shorthanding" it with each other - assuming the other knows our intentions and even details we've previously discussed. When we cut to the quick, we sometimes catch each other off guard - or hurt one another's feelings. It's easy sometimes to just see the other person as so close to us and assume that the other person - OF course - knows we love them and the context! Of course... right?

When to Avoid "Shorthanding" Others in Your Career

From my perspective as both a former corporate employee and a business owner with clients, there are several occasions when you should avoid "shorthanding" communication. These may include:

  • Providing feedback to a colleague or client on work they've done
  • When you need to provide important context or gratitude for contributions made by your team or your client before presenting something
  • When it may have been awhile since you last spoke with the other person
  • When there are multiple people in the room, including those who have not been a part of previous conversations

The key here for more effective communication and better relationships is to spend a few minutes (doesn't have to be a long time) at the start of your conversation and presentation to do things like:

  • Acknowledging work performed / expectations met
  • Providing some words of gratitude and appreciation for effort and talent shown
  • Setting expectations that the conversation will be about identifying what works and what has opportunity for improvement going forward

Basically, it's about being considerate of other parties involved. 

While the temptation to save time and be efficient is valuable, it's been my observation that a few minutes of setting the right tone saves a lot of heartache, misunderstanding, and poor communication across your team or even with your clients.

And When "Getting Down to Brass Tacks" It is The Way To Go

There will certainly be times when you're so in sync with someone else, that you can occasionally get right into the details. There's another example that comes to mind that taught me there ARE instances when you do just want to jump in.

Ironically enough, it comes from another manager / co-worker I had during the same time at Disney.

The story goes that I had a huge opportunity to do creative strategy presentation for an animated property. It was a stretch for me and I was really excited (and nervous) to share this with the Director on the team. 

When I went to meet with him to present my initial draft, I spent several minutes before I started loading him down with caveats about the presentation and things I wasn't sure about.

He stopped me mid-sentence. And I'll never forget what he said.
"Don't do that. Don't ever do that. Don't apologize for your work. Just present. I'm sure it's fantastic."

He was right. I presented the deck and he loved it. He already knew it was a big opportunity for me (so I wasn't presenting new info in my caveats), and I was making a big mistake to use my time with him to APOLOGIZE for my effort. It set the wrong tone and undercut the value of what I was presenting.

When you feel the need to share context or talk more before you share the work you do, make sure it's about effective communication and / or appreciating those involved. If it's about making apologies for your work or displaying your insecurity, forget it. 

So that's the time to jump right in. You've got this. 

Moving Forward

If you liked this, you might also enjoy these insights on working with difficult people and better understanding communication styles. 

The last thing I'll say about this is that whether you stop "shorthanding" it or you gain some confidence in showing off what you do - minus the unnecessary caveats - this is all about intention.

In all of my experience, I've come to believe that the best communication and the best relationships in my career and my business have come through that intention - through putting myself in the other person's shoes. 

Remember that this is something that can be a rarity in the business world. But I love rarity - to me, rarity just means "unique opportunity to stand out."