Closing the loop of communication

One of the best advices a mentor gave me during school was to close communication loops as quickly as I can.  In a world when constant information flow can occur on cell phones and a variety of social media, even a one-day wait for an email reply can seem archaic.

This idea is not new, though.  A basic recommendation written in Getting Things Done by David Allen is triaging your email inbox – if you can answer an email in two minutes or less, then go ahead and do it; if not, leave in your inbox.  He also recommends cleaning out your inbox daily (using the Archive feature in Gmail, for example).

The need to close the communication loop is formally required in many organizations such as the military and in medicine.  For example, critical medical findings on x-ray cannot just be communicated to the doctor or nurse; they must be accompanied by an acknowledgment, which typically involves a read-back.

In online communication by email, texting, or social media, there are three major categories of responses in practice: (1) reply to resolve the request, (2) contacting someone else to gather information before resolving the request, or (3) diverting the request to someone else who will resolve it.

What is sometimes forgotten is that we own the communication even after we did the right thing by gathering additional information or forwarding the original email to someone else – categories (2) or (3).  In other words, the original sender is unaware of the actions taken and is still waiting for our reply.  In the end, an additional 10 seconds of our time taken to close the loop with the original sender by a quick “I will forward this email to the John” (or by simply cc’ing the sender in our actions) can significantly increase our rapport with them.

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Howard Chen
Vice Chair for Artificial Intelligence at Cleveland Clinic Diagnostics Institute
Howard is passionate about making diagnostic tests more accurate, expedient, and affordable through disciplined implementation of advanced technology. He previously served as Chief Informatics Officer for Imaging, where he led teams deploying and unifying radiology applications and AI in a multi-state, multi-hospital environment. Blog opinions are his own and in no way reflect those of the employer.

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