27 September 2023

Identifying thought leaders by their communication habits

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Dianna Booher* says effective leaders have three distinct communication habits.

You may not be able to tell a book by its cover, but you can definitely tell thought leaders by their communication habits and their emails.

Here’s how:

They structure their message functionally—for clarity

You’ll hear none of this whining about “I know what I want to say, but I just can’t say it.” They know what they want to say it, and they say it—clearly, concisely, and directly.

Their emails begin with a succinct summary targeting specific readers.

After the summary, the email states what action should follow—either what action they’re recommending to the reader or what action they plan to take next.

No hints. No implied action.

No unclear passive voice constructions like this: “These procedures should be reviewed before Q2.” Who’s going to do that?

Instead, these thought leaders give clear action statements like, “I recommend that…” or “Please review the attached report and respond to me by Friday with your input on XXX.”

If details are necessary to “make the case,” these thoughtful writers generally follow up their summary and action statements with the “why” and “how.”

Although such details aren’t typically essential to a reader’s understanding the message or action, providing the background or the reasoning builds confidence in a leader’s competence.

It also demonstrates goodwill toward readers in that the writer-leader trusts them enough to share the reasoning.

They protect time for their core work

In my more than three decades of consulting with top performers, I’ve observed how religiously thought leaders guard their time.

They use email to increase—not sabotage—their daily productivity.

In a study conducted by the University of Northern Colorado’s Social Research Lab and Booher Research, respondents from more than 30 industries shared their email communication habits, covering issues such as responsiveness, security, and time spent handling email.

The biggest complaint: volume.

Thirty-one percent reported that more than a third of the emails they receive are unnecessary.

They defined “unnecessary” as either “irrelevant” or “redundant” (they received the same information from multiple people).

Stop right here: Are you cc’ing and bcc’ing people who don’t need to know, don’t want to know, or already know what you typically send?

If so, then you’re part of the problem for your colleagues.

This overwhelming but unnecessary volume is the culprit for the next most startling response on our survey: 42 percent said they spend three or more hours daily on email.

Unless someone’s core job is handling email (such as staffing the Help Desk or a Customer Support Center), routinely spending three hours a day on email leaves far too little time to focus on core work projects.

A final self-sabotaging practice reported by more than half of the survey takers was leaving their email inbox open all day—or checking their inbox every hour or so.

Distractions and more distractions pop onto the screen like popcorn.

All interruptions to their thinking.

As if those constantly appearing distractions aren’t enough, many workers report reading the emails and then leaving them in their box to deal with later.

In other words, they use their inbox as a to-do box.

That compounds the distraction and clutter for hours and even days.

Thought leaders—experts at their job—know and do better.

They know that productive email practices make the difference in giving them time to think strategically, to reflect deeply, and to produce important work.

They adopt productive email practices

As a routine, they:

  • Check email only 2-3 times a day: early morning, either before or after lunch, and at the end of the day.
  • Open email once: either decide, do, delete, delegate, or delay (pulling the email out of the inbox and into a file or over onto their electronic calendar on the day they plan to handle it).
  • Acknowledge receipt of email so people don’t continue sending reminders and follow-ups.
  • Unsubscribe (rather than just delete) from distribution lists no longer of interest.
  • Set filters to screen and organise emails into folders for priority reading.
  • Use CC and BCC appropriately, so as not to create their own clutter with meaningless replies as well as filling up colleagues’ inboxes unnecessarily.
  • Stop using email for tasks that other software handles more efficiently (such as scheduling tools and project management programs).

In short, leaders and experts protect their time for substantive work.

And when they communicate, they make their words and interactions matter.

*Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 48 books. She can be contacted at BooherResearch.com.

This article first appeared at booherresearch.com.

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