We’ve all been there, right? That solution was supposed to be achieved with a simple question and a quick answer. Yet, 3 days and six emails later, you still don’t have a solid resolution, and the waters of communication have been muddied to the point that you just wished the conversation had never started. Many times you end up moving forward with uncertainty, or **gasp** picking up the phone and attempting a voice conversation to try to cut through the confusion.

communication fails

While you can’t fully control the way that others respond to your text and email communication, you can definitely improve your own practices and take steps to minimize misunderstandings and maximize efficiency.

How many times have we stretched a simple conversation out way further than necessary? Here are five common communication fails I’ve encountered, and five ways to avoid them. How many of these have you been guilty of?

1. I forgot to include email attachments – communication fail.

This is something all of us have done. It’s an honest mistake, but it literally doubles the time and energy necessary to achieve the desired result. Rather than a message and reply, you end up with a message, reply, message, reply. The conversation goes something like this:

Sarah: “I’ve attached the document here for your review.”
Louie: “That’s great, but I’m not seeing an attachment.”
Sarah: “Oh, sorry. Here’s the attachment.”
Louie: “Ok, I’ve got it now, thanks.”

What’s the solution? Don’t be click-happy with your emails. Before you click the ‘send’ button, pause, review, and make sure you’ve included everything your message references. Google Mail (Gmail) and Microsoft Outlook users can take advantage of a built in feature that automatically detects if you’ve used the word “attach” or “attachment” in your email without actually attaching any files. When you click ‘send’ it will issue a warning message prompting you to add files before you send.

2. I replied to a message before reading it completely – communication fail.

This one can be really frustrating. Again, this can double or triple the effort that goes into a conversation. Here’s how it typically goes:

Jenny: “What size T-shirt would you like? We’ve been able to expand your choices this year. At this point you have options for small, medium, and large.”
Frank: “Well, what sizes are available?”
Jenny: 😐
Jenny: “Like I said earlier, we have small, medium, and large.”
Frank: “Ok, I’ll take a large.”

This issue could have been settled with one message and one response, but the recipient failed to read the entire message before zipping off a reply. Sometimes this can even go three or four rounds if the original message includes lots of details that are being ignored by the recipient.

What’s the solution? Slow down and read the whole message before responding. Take the time to analyze all the content before firing off a reply. As a sender, you can minimize the likelihood of getting an unnecessary reply by leading with details rather than a question. The message would look something like this:

“We’ve been able to expand T-Shirt size choices this year. At this point you have options for small, medium, and large. What size would you like?”

In this example, the recipient will be less likely to reply with “What sizes are available?” because you forced them to read the sizes before they got to your question.

3. I responded to only one or two questions in a list – communication fail.

This is similar to the mistake above, but it deals specifically with lists of questions. If someone is gathering details necessary to make a decision, they may ask several questions in a message, but only get partial answers in reply. Once again, this stretches out the conversation into a much larger ordeal. The thread would look something like this:

Sam: “Excited about jumping into kid’s ministry! When does it start? Also, I’m wondering what I should wear on the Sunday that I serve, and whether I need to bring anything with me.”
Pastor Joe: “We’re glad to have you! Plan on wearing jeans and a polo.”
Sam: “Ok, and when does it start?”
Pastor Joe: “We’d like you to be here right at 10am.”
Sam: “I can do that, and do I need to bring anything with me?”
Pastor Joe: “Nope, just make sure you’ve had a couple cups of coffee before you show up!”

This exchange should have been completed with one message and one reply, but it had to stretch out to 6 messages because the recipient failed to answer all of the questions in their original response! This seems harmless enough, but if you do this several times a day, it really adds up. Think of all the wasted time and confusion that could be avoided by simply being thorough and concise in your replies.

What’s the solution? Make sure to analyze an incoming message to identify all questions that are being asked, and address each of them in your reply. If there are a lot of questions, consider repeating each question and including your reply right beneath each one.

If you are sending a list of questions for somebody, make sure you keep them as tight as possible, and put them in a numbered or bulleted list rather than long copy paragraph form. This will make it easier for the recipient to identify what you are asking them and respond with accurate replies. If the individual sends you a text message that requires a long reply, ask them politely if you can respond to their request via email to allow for a more thorough reply.

4. I gave a yes/no answer to a multiple choice question – communication fail.

Nothing screams “inefficient” like an ambiguous answer to a clear question. How many times have you messaged somebody to try to get feedback only to receive a confusing “yes, that will work” or “no, I don’t think so” in response? Think about it, we’ve all experienced an exchange like this:

Rachel: “Hey Julie, would you rather go to Denny’s or Red Lobster for lunch?
We can even do Olive Garden if you want.”
Julie: “Yes, that sounds good.”
Rachel: “????????”
Julie: “I’m up for lunch around 12:30”
Rachel: “Great, Where do you want to go?”
Julie: “I’m not sure, what are our options?”
Rachel: ?

While this looks like an annoying personal text message thread, it happens way too often in church email communication too. This usually occurs because the recipient is distracted and rushed, and does not want to take the time to consider the options and make a definitive choice. Yet in their quest to save mental energy with a fast ambiguous reply, they actually end up wasting time and energy for both parties.

What’s the solution? Take the time to understand the message before you reply. If you don’t have time to analyze the message, you don’t have time to respond. It’s better to wait until you have the time margin to formulate an informed response than to simply snap off an ambiguous reply that will only create more questions and a confusing conversation.

5. I demanded a phone call when a text or email would do – communication fail.

This one can be complex, but also highly annoying. We live in a society that embraces instant messaging. While sometimes it is necessary to just place a phone call, usually your issue can be solved with an email or text message.

Demanding that someone call you in response to their message can make this statement: “If we’re going to communicate, it’s got to be my way.” Again, this can be touchy. Sometimes a phone call is in order if the topic is sensitive or complicated. However, many times it goes down like this:

Clyde: “Hey Joe, will you be able to make it to the 8:00 meeting tomorrow?”
Joe: “Please call me.”
Clyde: 😐
Clyde: *dials number*
Joe: “Hello, this is Joe”
Clyde: “Hey Joe, will you be able to make it to the 8:00 meeting tomorrow?”
Joe: “Yes, I plan on being there.”
Clyde: ?

This could easily have been resolved with a simple reply of “yes” to the text message or email. However, because Joe has some sort of affection for phone calls, he demanded that the communication take place by voice. It was rude, and wasted time and energy. Fact is, if Joe is technically literate enough to receive and mentally absorb the text message, he is technically literate enough to respond with an appropriate answer.

What’s the solution? As a general rule, reply to the other party’s message using the same method that they reached out to you with. If they texted you, text them back. If they called you, call them back. If they emailed you, reply via email. Again, there are exceptions to this, and sometimes it’s necessary to jump routes, but learn how to read people’s preferences and be courteous with your communication.

I hope these thoughts will help you as you grow in effective communication with your church and the people in your community. What other email and text message communication speed bumps have you encountered? We’d love to hear about them. Please comment with your input!