The single most important reason why I see alliances, partnerships and other forms of collaboration fail is because of communication. Or better said, lack thereof.
Lack of communication is often due to a lack of time, focus or structure. Lack of communication will, however, affect your trustworthiness. So what can you do to improve your communication?
Time and structure
We all have the same amount of hours in a day. Nobody has found a way yet to create more time. Thus we need to be sensitive about how we use our time. Email can be very distracting and time-consuming. However, email also has a function in the business world. Therefore we can’t discard or ignore it. We need to find a way to manage email better and enhance our productivity.
Firstly, start time boxing. Don’t live in your email the whole day. Allocate blocks of time during the day to work your email. That leaves time for real work in between. Unless of course your job description states that your primary task is to handle email (it rarely does).
Secondly, bring some more structure to the way you handle your email. In his “Getting Things Done”* methodology, David Allen describes the 2-minute rule. This rule in general states that “if I can do it within 2 minutes I will do it right away; otherwise I will create a task on my todo list and schedule time to do it”.
In the light of communication with our partners, it can be essential to create a two-step approach. First, answer your partner within that 2-minute time frame, saying that you are working on it and will get back to him. In that answer, include an expectation on when you get back. Secondly, schedule that task on your calendar and do it when the time comes. Handling email this way will create clarity for your partner on what to expect from you.
Focus and transparency
Know where your priorities are and focus on them. Also be transparent about them. Remember that “No” is also an answer, but silence is never an answer. When you meet with a prospective partner and you know that you are not going to work with him, then say so.
Don’t leave that meeting with vague promises. “Yeah, perhaps we can do something together, let’s find out.” After such a promise, silence often replaces communication. Instead, just be clear and transparent. A sentence like “This project does not fit our focus and priorities, thus we will not pursue it” will be much more transparent. Adjusted in your own words and fitting with your culture of course. That might turn out to be a less direct sentence, but make sure you are clear and don’t create false expectations.
Reliable and transparent communication is not rocket science. It just requires a little structure. The return of it will be an increase in your trustworthiness and on top of that it will save you time as well.
PS: Turn off notifications! They are the worst enemy of productivity and concentration.