By Steve Laube
It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication, assumption and expectation.
But I Assumed
Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and try to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know and alternatively make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I learn something new nearly every single day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.
But even worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that “assumed anger” prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.
Much of our business comes down to relationships and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.
Why Don’t You Answer?
I once had a client terminate their relationship with our agency because I did not answer their e-mails fast enough or had ignored them entirely. I was bewildered by this and tracked down the problem. My records showed a consistent pattern of answering everything the same day or shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the author’s e-mail server was intercepting 40% of my e-mails, declaring them spam, and not delivering them (they weren’t even sent to the client’s spam folder!). Unfortunately the author’s trust in me had been broken (due to technological error) and we went our separate ways.
This taught me a good lesson about expectations when it comes to e-mail in particular. Make sure you have an early conversation with your agent or editor or publicist to set out reasonable times for replies. And if that timing goes too long find out if the e-mail was ever received.
It is ironic that we used to make jokes about the Postal Service losing mail. Now it is more likely that a server doesn’t deliver or receive an email. A couple weeks ago a client told me they found an email in their “draft” folder that they thought they had sent to me and had been wondering why I had not yet replied.
Silence is Molten
When someone doesn’t reply and days roll by without an answer the tendency is to start thinking the worst. “They have bad news.” “They hate me.” “My career is over.” “Steve thinks I’m annoying.” “My publisher is going to cancel my contract.” “They have discovered that I really don’t know how to write.” None of which are true. But you feel the need to fill in the silence with some answer. And eventually the answer turns volcanic, at least in our minds. Out of that comes discontent, rage, and the rants begin.
Every person has their own preference in communicating. I have one client who does not use e-mail, prefers a fax or a phone call. Another does not ever want to talk on the phone, e-mail only. Another says, “E-mail me before you call so I can drive close enough to the local cell tower so my phone can get a signal, I don’t have any bars in my house.” We try our best to accommodate each client’s unique communication styles. But we aren’t always perfect.
Grace is the Solution
Give each other the benefit of the doubt. E-mail can sound stern and unyielding, even angry, in tone. So before assuming (see #1 above) grant a measure of grace. The ease of e-mail makes it simple to fire off something without adding a couple filters.
It may be that your editor or agent were called into a meeting for the day. Your agent may be traveling. The editor may have twenty fires to put out before they go home for the day, none of which they had anticipated when the got to work that morning. Give that editor or agent another day before lighting the fuse.
Oh, and if you want to rant to your agent about your editor, make sure you double, no triple, check the “To” line before you click SEND. The auto-complete function in your email system can be trouble if you are not careful…trust me.
What other barriers to communication have you found?
And look for Karen and Tamela’s blogs this week as each are on the theme of communication.