Author Phil Simon discusses Message Not Received

Author Phil Simon Tackles Ineffective Workplace Communication in His Latest Book, ‘Message Not Received’

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of email you receive at work? Do you zone out in meetings when your colleagues start throwing out words like “synergy” and “action items”? Or, worse, are you yourself guilty of leaning on email and jargon as crutches to get you through your day?

Be honest. We won’t tell anyone.

For author Phil Simon, these common workplace frustrations aren’t just annoyances; they’re the last straw in ineffective communication. And they’re impacting businesses all over the world.

Phil is an award-winning author of seven management books and whose latest, Message Not Received, expertly explores the intersection of collaboration, language and technology.

As fans of communication and collaboration here at PGi, I invited Phil to join me in my iMeet room to discuss his new book and his thoughts on how the way we’re working isn’t working:

Josh Erwin: In your own words, give us a brief background of yourself and how you define what it is that you do.

Phil Simon: [laughs] As little as possible.

In all seriousness, I’ve written 7 books now, but I used to work in software consulting. After about a decade of doing that, I decided that if I never wrote my first book, Why New Systems Fail, I’d have needed to see a shrink.

Broadly, I write and speak about the intersection of business, data, technology and people and how they all collide.

JE: What was your goal with Message Not Received?

PS: There are a ton of books out there about collaboration, language and technology, but I hadn’t seen a book that explored them all together.

It’s also one of the first books written about several things—more contemporary collaboration tools, for one, and communication language and business.

It’s also important to note what the book isn’t. It’s not a guide to grammatical style or the best ways to write business email, but rather it sums up the trends that result in overwhelmed employees. Email is not a particularly good way of communicating as a default mechanism. Jargon is the same; bombarding already confused employees with confusing language isn’t going to help.

All of that ineffective workplace communication does three things: confuses people, makes them feel stupid and causes them to tune out. None of that is a desired outcome.

We’ve been battling with communication forever. My goal with this book was to challenge people to think about the way we communicate at work. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: How we’re working isn’t working.

JE: Let’s talk about email. You write in the book about when you realized you had a personal email addiction and how you’re working to overcome it. How’s that going? Do you feel out of the loop now?

PS: I’m trying to get to the point where I check email three times per day. Once in the morning, again maybe late morning before I go to the gym and maybe once in the afternoon.

Quite frankly, I’m not there yet. It’s still so easy to do.

To your point about being out of the loop, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to be in certain loops. If that loop contains 62 emails on something, then I don’t want to be in it. Not even close.

All of that ineffective workplace communication does three things: confuses people, makes them feel stupid and causes them to tune out. None of that is a desired outcome.

It’s literally in the signature of my email: after three emails, we talk. After three, I pick up the phone. If I don’t have someone’s number, I’ll send mine with a note that we need to chat.

I’m not looking to irritate anybody, but some things need to happen in person. My research backs that up. We lose the tone of our voice, the important non-verbal communication through text and email. There are absolutely times when messages don’t get received properly because you’re missing that inflection of voice or eye contact. I wrote a post titled “Pick. Up. The. Phone” about this very problem.

One of my favorite stories in the book—I was once interviewing the keyboardist for one of my favorite bands, a guy by the name of Mark Kelly for Marillion. Very obscure band!

Mark told me how the band had gotten into an argument recently with the drummer after he sent a really aggressive email. But once they got him on the phone he said, “I’m not upset at all, what do you mean?”

These guys have been together since the ‘80s, spent thousands of nights touring together and there are still miscommunications through text. What happens in a 1,000+ person company where coworkers don’t even know each other that well?

Continue >

About Joshua Erwin

Joshua Erwin
Josh is a content creator and strategist with a passion for all things tech, such as the latest gadgets, apps, games and more. Josh loves listening to and playing music and is a big college football fan, especially for his alma mater Georgia Bulldogs. When not writing for PGi, you’ll find him gaming or drumming on Sundays for the Atlanta Falcons.

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