My achilles heel: Taking the bait to respond to written information.

I am a person who likes to write things down when I want them to be clear. And I am very much used to sending emails when I am not able to communicate something in person, either because I will not see the person or group until I can tell them my thoughts (and because I am an extremely impatient person) or because I feel that I am not able to say the things I want to say in a way that will be understandable to the other person or the team.

However, this has backfired on my many times during my time as a member of agile / lean teams and also in my role as a collaboration coach.

«Shared documents are not shared understanding», nor are shared written thoughts. Maybe a love letter or a letter to a friend can convey something that the other person can actually frame in the right way, and it is beautiful to send and receive a personal letter or message.

But as far as constructive and productive communication with others for the purpose of creating something goes, written information should always, always just be the «Plan B» to a person to person conversation.

The exception to this rule is, of course, that we can share and send a document before a conversation with the caveat that we have to explain that this is just preliminary information and that we will need to discuss it together. This is an option to share written information, because the other person knows that he or she can read it but then address questions.

Unfortunately, we often send information without this added message, and also we do send information with this added message but then postpone the conversation too long and then assume that the information has since been digested and understood, which is of course hardly ever the case.

Now, why is this my particular achilles heel in collaboration and why is it important? My problem is that when others write emails or share documents with me, I take them as a bait. I feel the urge to respond, to add my thoughts, to chip in. It has a lot to do with one of my most profound weaknesses (and strengths as well) which is my impatience and also my reputation of being ultra fast. Because I believe this to be my image (ultra fast responder) I take the bait and I answer the email, in many many cases creating more confusion than clarity. I do this against my very deep knowledge that «shared documents are not shared understanding», and I do it over and over again even when I know full well that I should not.

Building new habits is extremely hard and for such deeply rooted behaviour it is even harder. But I feel that it is crucial that in my role as a collaboration coach I change this habit, because all the people that I work with also share too many documents instead of having meaningful conversations. They do it maybe for other reasons then I. They do it because they think it will save time (which in 95% of the time it does not) or because they feel that they are more eloquent in writing than in oral speech.

But if I want them to change their habits, I first have to change them for myself.

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