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How to Communicate When You’re Busy

3 min read

Being fast doesn’t mean the work is right. And it doesn’t give us a chance to show our proactive thinking about projects.

A few months ago, I was packing for a trip to Hawaii. My friend was turning 50 and wanted to be in the 50th state to celebrate. Being a planner, I set out the suitcase out a few days early and began to place the items I wanted to bring to paradise. I made a checklist (don’t forget your phone charger, beach cover-up, etc.), which included a list of errands I needed to get done (pick up a dress from the dry cleaners, buy a swimsuit) before I bon voyaged.

These things absolutely, 100%, needed to be done before I left for the airport. And, as a result, I had to manage expectations with my other friends. I’d love to do breakfast with you but I can’t this weekend. I need to run errands before I head out on my trip. Want to try for the Saturday when I return?

My friends understood. Now wasn’t the best time for me to meet them, but I proactively problem-solved and suggested another time that could work. Plus, they would get to see pictures and hear stories about Hawaii – and that’s a much more engaging conversation over pancakes.

Why did my friends understand?

Now my friends and I have a great relationship and I’m lucky to have them in my life. But I did take some steps to help soften my “regret” to their invitation.

  • I was honest about my capacity and priorities.
  • I made sure to clearly communicate alternative strategies so a solution could be found.
  • I didn’t freak out (How dare you ask me to go to breakfast?!? Don’t you know I need to pack? What is wrong with you?!?!?) and let my emotions take over.

While I can easy do this with my friends, for some reason I can’t, like many early career professionals, seem to do this as well with my boss.

I’m part of the Marketing team at The Ariel Group, and our Director (Alyssa Galeros Keefe whose blogs you should read) is having us read Great on the Job by Jodi Glickman as a team-building exercise. It’s a fantastic read and, admittedly, it’s making me change how I work.

Here are my biggest takeaways from Jodi’s book.

Figure out what’s a priority today – and what’s not.

Many of us – myself included – avoid questions to avoid looking “stupid.” Work will pile up and soon you have a to-do list a mile long! Instead, ask people if certain deadlines would allow them to still meet their goals.

Do you need to finish something by the end of business day? Then that’s what you need to work on. The rest can wait.

Be generous with updates about projects. This will allow you to control some of your workload.

Simple communication can stop a lot of problems.

In between check-ins with your boss, Jodi encourages communication on tasks and priorities. A simple “I’m finishing up the report this morning and will turn my attention to the blog tomorrow. Both should be done by EOD tomorrow.” can go a long way.

You clearly aren’t twiddling your thumbs waiting for work to come in. You’re showing that you’re on top of your priorities and what’s on your plate.

Think of the opposite effect. If you “say yes to everything and everyone,” you’ll work yourself ragged, becoming stressed and burnt out. As a result, you’ll be unable to show up clearly – with presence – and won’t have the same impact on projects. (If you want more tips on how show up with impact at work, use some of these presence behaviors.)

Slow down: quick work doesn’t mean quality work.

Being fast doesn’t mean the work is right. And it doesn’t give us a chance to show our proactive thinking about projects.

Jodi gives a great example of this in her chapter, “Ask for Help.” When a problem arises, most of us are quick to the keyboard, emailing our boss the issue that OH MY GOD THIS IS GOING TO RUIN THE BUSINESS IF WE DON’T SOLVE IT NOW!

But is it really? Probably not.

In the book, Jodi tells us a story of how Reva needs to make a new orientation program. When she emails her boss for guidance (hoping to find a quick answer so she can proceed), she looks junior and appears to have not through the solutions. Her boss now questions her ability to perform in the role. Instead, she could have slowed down, showed her thinking, and appeared to be more strategic about issues that could arise.

Final Thoughts

At The Ariel Group, we say that business runs on the power of relationships. What you give is what you get.

Before you hit send on that next email, ask yourself if you are giving clear updates and being a proactive problem-solver. It’s something that will drastically impact all aspects of your work, especially when it seems to pile up on your plate.


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