Everyone who grew up in the nineties, is brought up with the stereotype about developers, system administrators or IT specialists; they are brilliant with computers and can fix your IT problems but are a little bit quirky and difficult to communicate with. I’m here to tell you otherwise, everyone can communicate effective. Like any skill, communication takes practice, courage and some knowledge. Still, it is a great tool for developers to create better software and get noticed for creating great solutions.
Communication at work was a hurdle to me. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. This was very frustrating. For example, when I explained something really cool about something I made, my colleagues would listen and be engaged. But when I was talking to a client or doing a refinement, my ideas were not picked up or I would have to take a long time to make my point. This was very frustrating to me.
My personal goal of last year and this year is to improve at communication. At VI I get all the help and space to improve. Since I started my communication improvement journey, I have the feeling I understand the “rules” of the communication “game” a bit better and therefore I want to share some findings of my own.
Communication what does this mean?
- Communication is bidirectional; you have to listen and understand what’s being said and express yourself based on that information. Using the right “buffer length” (amount of time you listen and talk), for both will make it effective. I for instance just could not shut up and keep talking. Sometimes a silence or one point less can make a better point
- At work, most of the time communication is some form of negotiation, you want something achieved. People must act, must spend time, must stop doing this or that etc. Think about the goal you want to achieve.
- Negotiation doesn’t mean strong arming someone into your beliefs. It’s an exchange of views and getting to know the perspective of your communication partner. This exchange must result in a win-win situation.
- Communication is not easy, it’s awkward and fuzzy. It can fail and isn’t as strict or well-documented as a TCP protocol.
The past months I learned and tried enough to know communication is really something amazing. It’s an essential part of any profession and patterns and practices can be applied to every situation. Here are my 3 favorite learnings.
It’s not all about the topic.
For long I thought, if I want to talk about a specific topic, I must be knowledgeable and well informed. Of course, this is still true, but I learned that it’s not as important as two other factors; tonality and body language.
From my personal experience I was amazed how well people listened when I talked about my latest cooking endeavor. Still when I was talking about a decision for a database, people just sailed by with their attention and just didn’t get it.
Then I learned about the 7/38/55 rule. This states that communication is 7% is about the actual words. 38% about tonality, which boils down to formality of your words and what kind of words. Compare the two sentences below, each has a different feeling, still they have the same content.
There are many synonyms for particular word, but each have a different connotation.
There are many ways to describe the same thing.
Finally, it’s about the 55% body language or so to say physical delivery, as I interpret this myself. If you don’t show authentic posture or reflect emotion, a message can get lost and can even undermine your message and tonality. Picture this, how well would you trust a person that hesitates or stumbles when bringing great news? Also when delivering written communication, such as an article or an e-mail. If you do not share, collect feedback or remind people about it, your digital posture on the written communication is not very positive. You must effectively spend time after writing chasing your audience. If you don’t do such a thing, it may come across of not caring what you have written and people tend to forget.
How is knowing this theory going to help me? Fake it till you make it? Doing a tell-sell imitation? NOPE! For me it’s just a bit of reminder that tonality and/or body language matter, when delivering a great idea or plan. Spend some time crafting the right delivery frame.
If you can spend time researching the subject, also spend time to give your research the best presentation and the best you. This not only helps in physical communication, but even written communication can also benefit from finding a great form like breaking up sentences or starting lists.
Know your surroundings.
This sounds like some form of army training. But when it comes to communication, please take time to take note of your surroundings too.
Who are the persons in front of you?
Besides knowing someone’s profession, it’s also vital to know their personality and skill. Try to read people besides their vocal expression. Watch out! Don’t fall into the trap of making too wild assumptions. Check often and find out how much someone knows and how much someone actually wants to know. Besides knowing how much information you send, the receiving end will also feel valued as a serious partner.
What time is it?
Has the day just started, or is this already the fifth meeting? Does someone have all the time in the world or is something more urgent around the corner? By knowing the time you have and what needs to be discussed you can communicate effective. Instead of summing up all benefits in a meeting where time is scarce, just name the most important one(s) and e-mail the rest later.
What is the emotion?
Try to look at someone’s face and determine a sentiment, take the liberty to check this assumption. For instance, if you are in a Teams call and someone is really stressed and distracted, it really benefits the both of you to first talk about this. Meetings can be rescheduled or, even better, you give people some time to catch up.
Adjust for the occasion.
If you are meeting face-to-face, be well presented. If you meet online, make sure you have a good (internet) connection. Of course, the other way around is also true. When grabbing a coffee or bite before a meeting, don’t spend talking too much on one subject. Such encounters benefit from light and fast conversation. Besides that, be authentic, don’t hesitate to show your colors.
Failure is not the end.
I’ve never met fearless people. All developers, project leads, COO, CFO or other great leaders have doubts and/or reservations. Surprise; you and I are no different. While writing this article I’ve had these fears of failing.
- My skill in the English language is deplorable.
- Nobody wants to read this.
- It’s a mess and just a very vain of me
With this out of the way, knowing where to fail, I can think of ways of mitigating these risks. Feel free to take some time before you start a meeting, write an article or start a presentation, to think about your fears and how to counter them.
Also think of this, normally when something fails in code, us developers tend to do things like;
- Pull requests
- Handle the exception.
- Apply logging.
- Retry policy.
How can we apply this to communication?
This varies per communication level. Written articles can be proofed with tools and have it proofread by colleagues. Spoken word is harder but feel free to check something during the conversation. If you got the time, let people repeat what you explained.
Handle the exception and apply logging.
Sometimes when I talk in a group, I experience emotions and think afterwards; “I could have done better”. When you have these feelings, please take some time to analyze the situation. Even the most confident person asks for feedback and receives coaching. Why don’t you ask colleagues?
I sure did, so thanks Yvonne, Kirsten and Vincent!
Your failure is not the end, try again later. This is my ninth article and I’m still learning. Also, when negotiating, it can happen you didn’t get your way. This is not due to your skill, sometimes there is no place, time or possibility. Try some time later to convince someone, or maybe settle for something that can work for the both of you.
I hope I sparked the interest of technical and non-technical people to communicate better and see it as a skill you can improve with tips and practices.
If you got feedback, tips or questions, I would love to hear from you!