Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.Nat Turner
I moved to a rural place recently where internet is not very accessible and since I am working remotely I started calling different providers to check fiber optic coverage. Let’s see two examples of my communication with them:
Provider 1: I spent two weeks with more than 20 phone calls (each time talking to machine and choosing options 2, 2, 1, 4), gave my address, GPS coordinates (really!), document number, went through authorization process (SMS, listening legal blah blah, etc), talked with at least 5 people from customer support and different departments, they almost asked me for my blood type. But they convinced me that this can be done and that we are in the process. I believed them simply because they asked for so much information. After two weeks they informed me that it can’t be done.
Provider 2: I put my telephone number on their web page, customer service called me in 3 minutes, I gave only the region where I am. They told me that I have to go to the office to check if that’s possible. So I went there and they told me it can’t be done. So in a matter of one hour I knew the response.
Outcome was the same for both internet providers, but in the first example I lost 2 weeks and lot of energy and with another one I got answer very quickly. The only (BIG) difference between them is – communication.
So, communication is essential, extremely important, skill in every day life, work and especially for remote teams where people are not in the same room, but from different countries, time-zones and cultures. I think that good communication is something natural, but when I started writing this article I realized how many components and aspects are there. So I will try to break it down and discuss each one of them.
If you are communicating with a group of people in language that’s not your native, being work or travel, do your homework and make sure it’s on a decent written and spoken level. Otherwise, you will have hard times explaining what you mean and risking not to be treated seriously. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but DoNt du somtinG lakE Dis pLiZ. Btw, let me know if I made some grammar mistakes in this article 😛
Before engaging in communication, you have to understand what is the reason for it, what are your goals and goals of the person/group involved. Why are you doing it, what’s the purpose, what do you want to achieve?
Always prepare properly, if possible, for communication. Make sure to understand who is who in the group, what are their roles, expectations and try to understand and prepare as much as possible about the topic to be discussed. Write down some notes if necessary. Otherwise you are all just loosing the time.
Before you speak, make sure to listen first. This is your further preparation for discussion. You want to hear as much information as possible and to get more insights about the topic. Sometimes is more important to be a good listener than a speaker.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions. You might not know too much about the topic, so your questions could look funny, but you are just trying to understand more about the topic. This is how you learn more – by asking.
If you have great memory – cool, but if you don’t – make sure to write notes and to remember/store/note important information from that conversation. For example, I have many notes in my cell, in the cloud, etc, to never forget important info and to always have easy and quick access to it. Also, people don’t like to repeat something that they have already said many times.
There is nothing worse than arrogant / aggressive / rude / egoistic / narcissistic / etc person for communication. You certainly don’t want to be one of them. They are not pleasant to communicate with and people don’t like them. And they usually don’t get too far with that approach. Root cause for that type of behavior is some kind of fear. Humility is a virtue. If you find yourself communicating with that kind of person, be calm and keep being polite. There are other ways to handle them, as we will see later. Don’t overuse emoticons, but they can really make a difference and express what and how you really wanted to communicate.
Conversation can be unpredictable. Be open and ready for everything. People can and will think differently than you. Also, you are not always the smartest one, so be open to accept another opinion and, hopefully, learn from it.
Be clear and direct
Be very clear and direct. Express your thoughts, ideas and opinions without going around or providing unnecessary information. If you need to talk a lot to explain some ideas, it could be a good sign that even you don’t understand it well. Don’t be afraid about response, as far as you are polite, there is no reason not to express what you think, even if some people won’t like it.
If you are not proactive person by nature, this can be difficult for you. But this is one of the most important characteristics of good communication. You don’t wait to be told what and how to do. You are always few steps ahead and not afraid to question things and to propose ideas. Even if nobody asked you. That’s how you really create and innovate. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Adapt and then change.
I could write a book about this, but will try to be short. When people write to you this is because they need some information from you. And they need it ASAP usually. It’s normal that people are busy and occupied with other things, on meeting, lunch, with family and so on. But you don’t have to provide real answer immediately. Simple message that you will get back to them is already a great answer. You acknowledged that you got the message, so other side will know what to expect. Sometimes you can just forward them to another resource to help them. I simply don’t understand people who read the message and never respond to you. For me this is lack of respect and professionalism. Please – don’t be that guy. Make sure to check your notifications, read your emails, use reminders and be responsive. I highly respect people who are responsive and in my experience responsiveness can be a real game changer. Just to be clear – that doesn’t mean that you have to sleep with your phone, asynchronous communication is fine, but just keep it reasonable.
Deliver and Expect
When you commit to do something when communicating – deliver it as promised. On time. Also expect the same. Communication usually has some actionable items after it, so make sure they are achieved.
Group vs 1:1
Sometimes is better to have group communication, but sometimes is better to do one on one conversation. More people – more confusion and possibility to go of-topic and have long discussions without meaning. But sometimes we need more people. Make small relevant groups or multiple 1:1 discussions to keep communication focused. And use common sense how to choose one over another.
Sometimes communication will not go well. Maybe person is not polite. Maybe they simply can’t contribute enough to your goal. Be polite, and after discussion think about plan B. If needed escalate the problem to other people in the group, sometimes higher in the hierarchy to unblock you.
Written vs Verbal
Again, use common sense, but in remote work and environment I prefer written communication because:
- it’s documented
- it’s searchable
- it’s archivable
- it’s sharable
- can be async
- possible to go over it multiple times and think more about it
Of course, sometimes is preferred to have verbal communication because it’s faster and easier to handle complex topics.
- good internet connection
- be on time
- be in a quiet place where nobody will disturb you
- PLEASE mute the mic if you don’t speak, nobody is interested in hearing your breathing, your kids screaming or other noise.
- I personally turn my camera on only if I am on 1:1 and if other person has it on, just for the sake of politeness. Otherwise I find it unnecessary distraction and it’s also draining the network. But it can make communication more personal and human on the other hand. Anyway, if your camera is on – make sure you have a good light and good background. Don’t leave your pizza, whiskey on the table or mess behind.. 😀
- More than 2 meetings per day or meetings longer than 1 hour don’t make too much sense. Keep them short and focused, keep them limited and only when it’s really needed. I prefer written Slack updates over daily standups via Zoom. Idea is to focus on work, not to spend too much time on meetings. Of course, we need planning, retros and other meetings, but keep them reasonable.
- Make sure to speak slowly, loud and clear, especially if it’s not your native language. Sometimes is really hard to understand people and it’s not convenient to ask more than once “can you repeat please”. I found myself couple of times saying just “yes yes” even I didn’t understand anything because I heard some alien language.
- Use high quality headset so that people can hear you well. Conference rooms frequently have problems with mic quality. Be aware of noise cancelling headsets. Once I was in important meeting, in the middle of some talk and then people started laughing. They asked me if I can calm my dogs 😀 When I put my headphones off, I heard two dogs from my neighbor barking. So it’s better not to use noise cancelling – to be aware of your surrounding.
Documentation is one form of communication. Document your findings, thoughts, projects, APIs. Can you imagine buying a new drone without instruction manual? Of course not. So, documentation is a good way of communicating your work with other people. And also for yourself. When you come back after 6 months to your project, you will thank yourself for documenting it.
Some people think that keeping information secret and for them only is their advantage. I don’t think that, because only by sharing information it becomes valuable – it opens more discussion and further collaboration. This is how you get feedback. This is how team builds new things upon it. That’s how we progress as a team. Sharing is caring. What you give is what you get 😉
I would just like to briefly mention some essential tools that I am using in daily life and work for communication:
- Slack for work
- WhatsApp for personal communication
- Zoom for online meetings
- Google stack
- Notes for iOS
I always make conclusion after some conversation. I think about it or I write it down in my notes. Each conversation has some purpose, so I want to process it and to conclude something. Can be some action plan or resolution or need for another meeting. But there is always some outcome. Make it clear and continue from there.
Many can argue – not many converse.Amos Bronson Alcott