Communication is not about ‘conveying’. It is about being understood.

In one of my early jobs, I worked as a marketing minion in a company whose IT team worked a few floors below in the same building. One of the IT managers once told me, “email ಬರೋ ಮುಂಚೆ ನೀವ್ ಬಂದುಬಿಡತೀರ!” (Even before the email arrives, you arrive at my desk!).

I used to be that person, who sends an email and then goes personally to make sure they’ve seen the email and will act on it. I now know that’s irritating AF and regret that I was that person, but I also realise what necessitates that behaviour: Lack of clear and open communication.

If I ever got a response to my email, I’d never have to run down to get it. (Not saying it’s an individual’s problem, often, it’s cultural. There is ‘save your ass by never putting anything on email’ culture in so many organisations.)

But, at work, “I’ve sent an email” isn’t good enough. You’ve not communicated when you say / post something. You’ve communicated only when the intended recipient has heard and understood you. And if you intend to get anything meaningful done, you need to have communicated.

Here are some things you could try.

If you’re the communicator:

Ask for an acknowledgement in emails. Asking a question at the end of your email is a better way to achieve this than “kindly acknowledge the same”.

If you made edits to a shared document, don’t rely on the tool to send updates (you don’t know if they’ve turned notifications on). Send an email/text saying, “Hey, I’ve made the edits, let me know when you look at it.”

While on a call, check if they’ve understood. “Am I making sense to you?” “Am I being clear?” (The feminist discourse has a lot to say about this, but I don’t mind asking these questions, really.)

If you’re the receiver:

Always acknowledge when people say something to you. My designer Nabha does a fantastic job of this. She will reply to every brief with acceptance and an ETA. It makes me trust her, I just never have to worry when I email her.

On a call, repeat the info back to them to confirm you’ve understood. Do it subtly, not like an untrained call centre employee.

If you haven’t heard back from your recipient in reasonable time, follow up. Reasonable time depends entirely on what you’re speaking about. If it’s for invoice payment, follow up time might be 2-3 days; if it’s about an ad design that needs to go to print the same day, you might have to call immediately after emailing. 🤷

P.S: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers has a chapter on Avianca Flight 52, which crashed because of miscommunication between the pilot and air traffic controller (among other things). Must read!