Information Overload: a Hindrance to Effective Communication

Pascale Chauvot

21 Dec 2010

How many times do you check your inbox each hour? Once, twice, half or a dozen? Or are you more like the typical British office worker recently revealed to check their emails at least 30 times an hour. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph has suggested that we have become addicted to technology and are so hungry for new information that we constantly check for new messages or snippets of information in the hope that we have received something meaningful, enlightening or we are actually needed by someone.

New technology such as smart phones should be a great asset and a powerful aid to helping us work more efficiently. We can respond to urgent emails on the go, refer to useful websites and look up quick facts.

However, these gadgets, as well helping us, can also prove to be a hindrance providing information overload and constant interruptions. We receive so many emails and are exposed to so much information that it can be hard to distil what is actually important and what isn’t. We fill our brains with clutter and lose the ability to focus on our priorities and spend our time responding to trivial emails. We think we are multi-tasking but actually we are becoming less productive.

We read each email but don’t always process the information we need. As a result, we risk irritating the sender by asking them to remind us what they said or to send the email again. More worryingly, we allow ourselves to be distracted from more important tasks by the seeming urgency of each email that comes in.

This information overload doesn’t only impact the way we process information ourselves but can also have a negative impact on the way others perceive us. It is all too easy to give the impression that you are not listening to the other person. It can be quite obvious even on the telephone that you are distracted by your inbox rather than giving the speaker your full attention. In a face-to-face meeting, of course, it is only too apparent when the person you are talking to is distracted by their smart phone rather than focusing on the content of the meeting.

When you are tempted to check your emails mid conversation, consider how you feel when on the receiving end of this type of behaviour and think about your relationship with the person you are talking with. Do you want them to think that you are focused on what they are saying, that you respect and value their input or would you prefer to give them the impression that you are not terribly interested in them or their message?

Many companies have now acknowledged the productivity issues associated with this information overload and are responding by offering coaching and professional email writing courses to help their employees cope.