improve your communication

Improve Your Communication and Decision Making in 24 Hours

In today’s world of unlimited connectivity it is easy to fall into an “on-demand” expectation of our co-workers. We quickly send an email from our phone as we are waiting in the lift, only to ask our co-worker 5 minutes later if they have had a chance to action it as we walk past their desk. The unrealistic expectations of speedy responses and action can lead to poor decision making, ineffective communication and employee burnout. As managers and leaders, how do we create the space that our colleagues need to improve the quality of communication and decision making? Implementing the “24-Hour Rule” is one way to start.

The 24 Hour Rule

The 24 Hour Rule is fairly simple and has been applied to a variety of uses. I like using the 24 Hour Rule to help create the breathing and thinking space required to facilitate positive, meaningful communication and high quality decision making in the workplace. It works like this:

If you get an email, phone call or business interaction or request that you find unsettling, requires more care in your response, or is requesting a decision that has wider impact- reply with a brief comment that you need to review the situation and will provide a more considered response within 24 hours. (Note: Personally, I would encourage employees to only respond during their normal work hours unless they are specifically required to be on-call.)

Rather than using automated responses, I would suggest reading the message, then asking yourself:

How does this message make me feel? Am I reacting emotionally to the message?
Does my response or decision required impact others?
Who else do I need to consult with to make a quality decision or provide a considered response?
Do I have time right now to action this message to the professional standard that I hold myself to?

Then craft your response with these factors in mind. If you can give a decision in 24 hours, then do it. But if you think you may need more time, commit to providing a more detailed response with the next steps in 24 hours. It may look something like this:

“Dear Jim, Thank you for raising your concerns about the response times from the sales department. I need to think through your concerns and gather some additional information to ensure that we can find a workable solution. I will review your email in more detail and get back to you with the next step in 24 hours.”

Ensure that you meet your commitment to respond meaningfully within 24 hours after you have had an opportunity to carefully consider the request or interaction and your response. Failing to appropriately follow-up will erode the trust and value that you have created.

The Benefits of the 24 Hour Rule

Creating space in our conversations and workplace interactions allows people who tend to be more emotional or impulsive in their responses time to consider the impact of their response. It also allows people who are naturally more conservative or considered on their approach the time to process information coupled with a deadline to respond.

The 24 Hour Rule works so well because it puts an almost equal responsibility on the message receiver and sender to facilitate quality communication.

The Receiver

We have never before been faced with the sheer volume of message inputs that we have today. We are receiving messages non-stop- from notifications on our phone, to emails and instant messages, to phone calls and web chats. It is so easy to receive a message in haste and incorrectly interpret its meaning. A divided focus also means that we are more prone to firing off quick, ill-considered responses. It could be a misinterpretation of the message, a poorly worded response, or just a silly error like “reply-all” or sending a message to the wrong recipient.

On the other side of haste is lack of responding in a timely manner. How many emails have you started with “My apologies for the delayed response….” or, worse yet, never responded to? An overdue or non-existent response is almost as bad an ill-considered, poorly worded response. Both types of action from the receiver undermine quality communication in the workplace.

By adopting the 24 Hour Rule, the receiver is committing to self-discipline required to carefully read, interpret and consider their responses. They are allowing themselves the time and space required to deal with any initial emotional responses and craft a response that is worthy of their professional standards. The receiver is more productive by planning and focusing their day- rather than jumping from one urgent message to the next. They are also ensuring that they meet their commitments to be responsive by ensuring that they appropriately respond to and action any messages within the 24 hour period.

The Sender

In the personal development space, it has been said that we “train people how to treat us”. We cannot control how other people may choose to communicate with us, but we can control how we respond. When you adopt the 24 Hour Rule as a recipient, it will influence the way people communicate with you. You will also find that it shapes the way you communicate with others.

As the message sender, adopting the 24 Hour Rule requires you to be more proactive in your communication. Rather than leaving decisions to the last minute and expecting an immediate response, you will begin to ask earlier. Rather than bashing out a quick email that may not have clear direction or detail, you may spend a bit more time crafting your message, clearly stating action required and timeframes. You can also free yourself from the constant need to check up on emails or phone messages sent as you have trust in the process that your messages will be acknowledged and responded to within the agreed 24 hour period.

The 24 Hour Rule works so well because it puts an almost equal responsibility on the message receiver and sender to facilitate quality communication.

But what about urgent communication?

There are times when urgency is critical and a response may not wait 24 Hours. This doesn’t mean that the 24 Hour Rule does not work but rather you must exercise discretion and care with how you apply it both as the Sender and Receiver. The reality is most business communication is not urgent, we have just created the pressure of urgency in our communications because we are always connected. Poor planning and a lack of personal discipline in managing communications also create a false sense of urgency. So before you mark a message as urgent, ask yourself these questions:

Is the action required immediately or a critical response needed within the next 4 hours?
Could I have done anything differently to allow more time for the action required?

These two questions help you not only clearly craft your message (whether it is a phone call, text or face to face meeting) but also reflect on ways that you can improve the process or communication for the future. Was it an internal process breakdown that created the sense of urgency? Was it poor planning and prioritisation? Was it an opportunity that we didn’t plan for or expect? Or are you just being unreasonable in your expected response times?

In the people management space, some issues will require immediate action. If the health and safety of your employees or customers is at risk, then immediate action is required. The 24 Hour Rule can then be used in the subsequent communication.
How do you ensure quality communication and high-value decision making occurs in your workplace? Do you use something like the 24 Hour Rule? 

About the Author:
Corinne Butler is Founder of Tweak HR, specialising in Outsourced HR and Business Improvement for the SME sector. She is a leader in the areas of Human Resources strategy, DiSC personality profiling, Emotional Intelligence and Business Benchmarking to improve organisational capability. She is co-author of “Getting out of the Doghouse”, the popular management book that helps us understand the importance of benchmarking, understanding our personality and that of others, having common senses that we apply every day partnered with the need to develop emotional intelligence.

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