It was a quite Sunday morning. I was sitting in my favorite chair enjoying a cup of green tea along with the daily dose of newspaper humor when my phone rang. It was Asha. She sounded upset. I calmed her down and asked her the cause for her rage. I had known Asha for several years now. She was calm, collected and a smart person. Hence I was surprised to hear her tone on phone.
She shared that her manager had called and he was agitated. It was about an email that she had sent a day before. Her second level supervisor, the CEO, had contacted Asha just when she was about to leave for the day. He had been trying to contact her manager but could not reach him. He wanted a status report urgently. Asha had promised to take her teenage son out that evening. She grudgingly stayed back, updated the report and sent it to him with copy to her manager and her colleague who had helped her to put together that report.
In her email she wrote, "as per our discussion this evening, please find attached the status report". Her manager had received a terse email from the CEO asking for his analysis. From her email the CEO assumed that the report was prepared solely by Asha. She had failed to mention the contributions of her manager and her colleague.
I asked her to meet me in the evening.
I met her that evening. She asked if she could have done anything better. Instead of answering her closed ended question I explored the situation with her in more detail. Here are four specific questions that we discussed:
1. What is the purpose of the communication?
2. Who are the target audience?
3. Who are the other stakeholders? and,
4. What is the preferred communication culture in the organization?
In the situation described above Asha knew what the CEO wanted and she did well by including all the target audience and the stakeholders in the address field, however she failed to appreciate the communication culture in the organization. The CEO preferred that only his direct reports write to him. She had not followed that unwritten rule.
With practice she started developing the habit of asking these questions before any communication. Whenever she would not have answers to these she would go back and seek clarification. This one change moved her closer to becoming better at the Art and Science of Leadership.