Addressing Communication Escalation

At work we’ve noticed some… communication escalation.  By this I mean:

  • One person will call 3-5 of the staff running our program and leave them all the same voicemail, which does not mention that she was calling several of us.
  • One person will both email me a question and leave me a voicemail about it within five minutes.
  • Someone who leaves a voicemail at 8AM (I don’t get in until 9) expresses frustration that she couldn’t get through to anybody when she calls again at noon and I “finally” answer.

It’s a typical case of people not seeing the big picture.  They’re thinking about their isolated concern, not about what they’re doing to the office and our ability to address everyone’s concerns.  Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to a two-minute voicemail, look up some answers, call the person back, talk for ten minutes, then bring other questions to another colleague, only to find that that colleague had just talked to the person in question an hour ago about the same thing.  Yes, that has happened.  It’s a pity I couldn’t have used that time to call back 5 other people who also needed answers.

I honestly don’t blame people for getting worked up and feeling that they need to bombard us in order to receive an answer.  I do want to offer them some guidelines for not slowing down everything for everyone else though.

I’m not the only one in the office who’s noticed that this problem has been increasingly insistent, and we’re discussing some policies that might help us reign it in within our department.  Measure’s we’re considering:

  1. Sending out an automatic reply to every email stating our reply policy (i.e. staff set aside x amount of time to reply to emails per day.  Non-urgent emails will be answered, but not immediately.)
  2. Leaving a new voicemail greeting everyday outlining our meeting schedule for the day and when callers can expect a reply.
  3. Indicating on our voicemails and emails that staff check both regularly, so a message in one of those systems will be sufficient.

Has anyone else noticed this happening?  What do you think causes it?  How have you addressed it, or how do you wish you could address it?  Can social media help?

5 thoughts on “Addressing Communication Escalation

  1. When this happens in my office, it’s a sign that people feel like we are not listening to them and feel like they have to yell to be heard. That may not be your case.

  2. Alanna – very valid point! I think there are a handful of instances where people did need to pester us to get heard.

    I also think that there are many instances where people bombard us immediately. This is part of escalation; more and more, people just start out “shouting.” The ironic side-effect is that it slows down our office… giving more people more cause to shout!

    How does your office prevent it, or handle it when it does occur?

  3. Another cause of this is, sadly, that you are always being compared to others. Let’s just say there’s someone in your office who spends a lot of time at her desk and leaves her Outlook pop-up messages on, and thus is quick to respond to any in-coming email. If this person consistently responds to emails within an hour, but you can’t get to yours more than twice daily, by comparison you look bad.

    You can even do this to yourself. It’s happened to me. There are days I’m at my desk all day, working on online stuff and preparing training materials. An email comes up, I answer it promptly, then go back to my Word doc. Other days, I’m training or in meetings all day. I check my email at the end of the day before I go home, but by then people who’ve gotten accustomed to my answers coming right away think I’ve blown them off, because by comparison with my “in the office” days, my response was too slow.

    What to do: don’t be too quick to answer! Or at least, don’t always be too quick!

    Also, I think the policies you’ve outlined above will help. Communicating about how you communicate is sometimes necessary.

  4. We’ve got pretty firm lines of demarcation about who does what. When we start getting bombed with duplicate requests, we re-focus on doing our own work, so if someone emails five people asking for information, they will get four replies that say “I sent this to Bob” and one useful reply from Bob.

  5. em,
    i generally face that issue as well. throughout the orientations, i’ve really focused that more information is always better than less.
    i do think the automatic response email is the best option; however, i would get highly annoyed if i got that every time i tried to email someone.
    ultimately, you just have to try to placate everyone as much as possible. maybe you should try emphasizing at the next training that there is a specific way to contact you that’s most effective?
    also, what did we do before email? seriously…

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