“You can’t over-communicate” is wrong — you really can
Over the years, at the start of change programmes, I’ve listened to enthusiastic project managers boldly proclaim that “we can’t over-communicate at this time” with great authority in kick-off meetings. But I’ve never subscribed to the idea that communicating for the sake of saying something — anything — is a good idea. In fact, in my experience, it can have the opposite effect.
You absolutely can over-communicate (or perhaps more accurately ‘over-transmit’*) — if you don’t have something substantial with which to update people, they frankly don’t want to hear from you. It’s a waste of their time while there’s nothing new to share and they’re doing their best to crack on with their jobs.
You’re dragging them and their attention away from their work to say “nothing has changed.” I’ve read advice saying that you should communicate to people even when there’s nothing to share. Nonsense! If there’s nothing to share, you have nothing to communicate of any substance. It’s just a distraction.
Sure, you can repeat what you’ve said before, as we all know the messages don’t sink in the first time, perhaps, or there are different people joining each call, reading each email or attending each ‘town hall’ meeting, but to say the same thing over and over again is just wearisome.
The argument is that people should have an outlet to be able to ask questions and should see visible leadership — sure, I get that, but while there’s nothing specific to update people on, point them to a 24/7 FAQ page and the ability to ask questions there. (Or to a recording of a previous update.) Then you can respond in slower time — asynchronous communication is becoming more prevalent in these mid-to-post-COVID days — and use the key themes as topics to cover in your substantial updates.
Nothing will annoy and frustrate people more than taking up their precious time to tell them nothing of any substance and give a load of holding statements — again.
So while the concept of “communicate, communicate, communicate” is overused, not least because it chews up twelve syllables, don’t distract your colleagues from their important work unless you’ve got something new and useful to share.
(* my favourite definition of communication is “the transfer of understanding from one party to another.” Over-communication would involve transferring that understanding repeatedly, which, if people have already understood what you’re saying, would be a waste of time and effort — and would frustrate people who could start to feel patronised; over-transmission, therefore, is relentless information bombardment, which I’m sure we’ve all seen.)