Practical Communication

Over the course of the last few weeks, the board related to the condos I live in have been trying to get the sprinkler system tested. This requires people to be at their condo.

The communications seemed written by committee. In fact, I suspect it was. The emails were long, detailed, and largely uninteresting after a request for people on different floors to be home at different times, with a schedule and a verbose explanation of… well, honestly, I didn’t read that first email fully because it was annoyingly verbose.

I spoke to a director, and how they explained it in person took less than 3 minutes. The explanation happened to be incorrect. Given the director, I should have expected that, so that’s my fault.

Another email came around with thinly veiled derision about people not being home during scheduled times, etc, etc.

Then a 2 page photocopied collection of words ended up shoved under my door, stapled together in such a way that opening it destroyed part of whatever they thought was important enough to try to communicate to us. On skimming this

Eventually, the testing was done, and it was very, very simple. It took about 20 minutes to do our floor, though not everyone was home because it was scheduled on weekdays. It’s a little silly to expect that everyone could be there at the same time. Well, not a little.

For me, this process was roughly 3 weeks of communication that did not get the message through to a lot of people. Better communication would have given better results, I’m sure, but there was no way that they were going to get 100% participation. People have lives and commitments.

One of the things I noticed almost immediately was that there was a call to action to start with, which is good. There was an offer to give the office the key to the condo to do the testing, which, while nice, opens up liability questions should things get broken, go missing, or any of those things claimed. That, to me, was a mark of desperation.

There was also an implicit misunderstanding of the lives of people who live in the condos, as if everyone could just snap their fingers, pause their lives and get home during the middle of a work day to handle the issue.

What could have been done better?

Know Your Audience

If you’re going to schedule something during the work week and you know people work, you missed in concept already. I ended up asking if they could have done it on the weekend, when more people would be likely to be home, and their response was that it was more expensive.

Given they have had to do this 2 times so far with some floors, I’m not sure that’s the case.

Keep It Simple

The test was a matter of bringing the water pressure to a level and making sure the sprinklers didn’t leak. It took less than 20 minutes. It is a required test that helps keep insurance cost down for condo owners.

You don’t need a bunch of paragraphs to say that. That’s generally what happens when people are trying to look smart, or browbeat people into submission, particularly with a captive audience.

Better Targeting

I know for a fact that the technology exists to target people by floor for emails. Nobody on the 9th floor really cares about the testing on the 1st -8th floors. The communications we got had a schedule for every floor, which made it annoyingly difficult to read.

It Wasn’t That Bad.

Honestly, given that the board is made up of volunteers, the administrative person in the office is alone and overloaded since for some reason the board has not found a new property manager yet… it could have been worse. Because it could have been worse doesn’t mean that it could not have been better.

The previous board was actually horrific when it came to any sort of communication, with everything from the past chairman becoming a meandering story that lacked so much more than all of this. Oddly, he’s writing for media in Trinidad and Tobago which is a poor reflection on those parts of the media he writes for, but he’s politically connected so he makes people suffer his syllables. He’s so bad that Tolkien would have suggested that he be more brief, and Tolkien could take 3 chapters to describe a chair if he was so inclined. It would have been a kick ass description, though, so there’s that.

There are lessons here. Speaking for myself, I often need to tighten things up myself, so the criticism isn’t coming from perfection. I would never claim that.

But we can avoid people wanting to stab themselves in the eye with pencils when we write. I think that might be a goal for any writer.

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