How to get your colleagues’ attention

Conveying crucial information to busy higher-ups—or even to easily distracted colleagues—can be difficult. Here’s how to make sure your message gets through.

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It can be hard to get key people’s attention, even when you need it the most.

A friend recently described the frustration of her words simply not registering. Rhonda, a VP of communications, went into the CFO’s office for a sign-off on the annual report. She made a point of explaining carefully that the report was going to press at 6 a.m. the next day.

The CFO assured her that all changes were made and to let it go. The next day, after the presses had been rolling for five hours, the CFO sat down in Rhonda’s office with a copy of the annual report stuffed full of marked pages. “OK,” he said. “Let’s go over my changes.”

Despite Rhonda’s best intentions, somehow her message to the CFO was lost. Communication with upper management—and with other colleagues, for that matter—can be a lot more complicated than it seems. This is because nothing happens in a vacuum.

Each of us at any given time is the product of long-term and short-term stimuli. This interference or “noise” in the model is often the culprit in miscommunication. The CFO may have been thinking of the board meeting coming up, the audit just completed, the first quarter figures, or the person who cut him off on his commute into work.

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