We’ve all been there (well, maybe not actually there): You ask a question, your question is misinterpreted, you respond with clarification, but that, too, goes astray. You give up feeling like your original question wasn’t fully answered, and you’re more confused than you were before you asked it.
It’s a problem as old as conversation. But it’s more frequent now that so much of our professional communication takes place over email, text, or messenger services like Slack.
We all know the basics for writing answerable emails: Make it personal (but not too personal); keep it short (but not too short); ask for what you want (and make sure what you want is do-able).
But what happens when you follow the rules and still end up in a communication rabbit hole? It happens to all of us—in fact, it just happened to me on Slack.
Why do our messages go astray? Usually because we're vague, we forget our audience, or we don’t loop in the right people (or we loop in too many wrong people)
In my situation, I wrote a vague message to the wrong person. I got a sharply worded reply that immediately put me on the defensive. Prompted by Slack’s slick, immediate interface, I replied too quickly when I should have pulled back to figure out where I went wrong.
Learn from my mistakes, especially if you interact in a lot of ways with different clients, colleagues, and assorted professionals.
In addition to making it personal, keeping it short, and asking for what you want, be direct and explicit in your ask, remind yourself who you’re speaking with (and keep it relatively formal), and be sure you’re speaking with the person who can help.
And, if all else fails, pick up the phone. I did. And I found that what I’ve secretly suspected is true: Sometimes a human voice is better and more efficient than anything technology can offer.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.