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Is this Signal or Noise?
Are you increasing signal or adding noise in your communication with other people?
Most of the time you hear people complaining about the noise they get from other people, whether it's junk mail, spam, inane phone calls, water cooler emails, or that chain mail that's been forwarded forty-seven times. Very rarely do we admit that we are sources of noise, as well.
This recently struck home when a friend of mine starting using AwayFind. AwayFind is an excellent service that auto-responds to email messages while giving people a link that they can use to get to you if you really needed to. I'm sure Jared will come over and explain it better, but it's really a good service that I really don't need given my manageable email traffic levels - yet this post is not really about AwayFind.
It's about how being confronted with the reminder that my friend's time was valuable that changed the way I thought about my correspondence with her. I started reflecting on how many of the messages I sent to her were water-cooler style chatter. The realization struck me: I was adding noise.
Since I had her personal email, as well, I became very judicious about what information I'd send her. The question I asked each time was "Is this worth my time to write and/or her time to read?" You'd really be surprised by how much of your email time can be cut down if you treat your friends' time the same way you want your time to be treated.
I then started asking how much of my correspondence via email and calls was like this. I don't generally make a lot of phone calls unless I have something to important to say or talk about and this is largely due to the fact that a call is a "right now" type of imposition on someone. That's a no-brainer, yet the fact that an email message is asynchronous doesn't mean that it's not an imposition on someone's time. The ease in which we can send emails and the cavalier ways that we do it actually makes the problem much worse. Since people are avoiding the noise of their inbox already, the authentic communication that we may spend is competing with the noise and chatter everyone else is sending.
The irony here is that by distancing ourselves from the noise, we actually allow people to get closer to us by respecting us, our time, and their relationship to both. Because people are more likely to filter the noise and instead say something valuable, our interactions with them become more meaningful.
I've mentioned a good way to assess the information that we're thinking about seeking or spreading in The Triple Filters Test. The test asks whether what the information you're spreading is true, good, and useful, and if it's not, it's not worth the time. That same test applies to the conversations and messages we send to people, as well. It also deals with what I write here, as I sincerely hope that it's adding value and not noise.
Some may read this like I'm saying we have to be robotic and business-like when we talk or send email to people. Quite the contrary: be funny. Be genuine. Reach through and say hello to the core of your friends and family. Actually connect with people. We need these things - they are what makes our lives worth living. But noise...we can do without.
Take that quick second and ask yourself whether what you're sending or wanting to talk about is signal or noise. We owe it to each other.