We often hear that a person is a really good communicator or job postings frequently mention they need someone with “strong communication skills”. But what does it really mean to be a good communicator in software teams or any teamwork environment for that matter? I gave this some thought from my past experience of years learning what I believe to be the traits of great communicators as a result of working with hundreds of software engineers, product managers, UX designers, marketing experts, and executives. The result is what I call the 7 Cs of communication:
- Careful: A good communicator has developed a sense of awareness of their surroundings for when they need to be the receiver of communication or sender of it. They are active listeners, who chime in public venues of communications such as meetings, email or slack channels If they have something impactful they can contribute. They also express themselves with what I call micro-communications; that is expressing your recognition, appreciation, or confirmation using subtle tools such as emojis! If you can drop that 🚀 emoji when your colleague says “that customer-facing bug fix is on production”, why not do it?
- Concise: We live in the world of 15-second Instagram stories these days! A good communicator says more with less may it be verbal or written communications. This is probably the hardest skill in communication to master.
- Complete: A good communicator does not miss any necessary details. While being concise, they review the message they are about to deliver and ensure it encompasses everything required for the audience.
- Crowd-focused: Great communicators also ensure they include the right people in their message and transform the message to a form their audience can fully understand. If you have built a screen-sharing technology, the way you explain the exact same feature to engineers, product managers, sales, and executives will be different. The key is to have the audience’s background in mind and truly understand what they care about.
- Clear: Great communicators reduce room for misinterpretation. The people that are supposed to understand the message will. Take an example of a team that uses Docker as their application containerization technology, at the same time they use the container app methodology for their front-end tooling. If you are going to communicate a problem with the front-end container app technology in a communication medium with both DevOps engineers and front-end engineers present; you want to make sure you are being explicit about the type of the container app that is broken so DevOps engineers don’t go to panic mode (this was a true story!)
- Continuous: It’s rarely the case that more complicated problems or deliverables get resolved in one message. There is usually back and forth, iterations, or phases before favorable results are reached. When you order your favorite new gadget that you have spent a lot of money on, you check the status of delivery every step of the way. The seller got the order, it got shipped; it’s on the plane; last-mile delivery has it now; ding ding it’s at your door! A good communicator does the same thing with matters that require back and forth. They let stakeholders know every step of the way. Also, it’s in the nature of people to forget a process change until habits are formed. A good communicator recognizes that they need to repeat and paraphrase the same message in different ways until they see results that people on the team have adapted to the change. The response time in continuous communication matters. If someone is asking for your feedback on a technical document they are about to start working on next week, then it will be probably ok to get back to them a bit later. However, if people are blocked or important releases are being delayed, a good communicator adjusts their response time with the importance of the matter at hand ⏰.
- Closure: We transmit messages for a reason. We have a problem, we are stuck, excited, concerned, proud, asking for a favor, etc… A high-performing team with great communicators deeply cares and collaborates to get to the bottom of the reason for the communication and ensure closure is reached.
These traits mostly focus on a great communication mindset rather than the nuances of a specific type of communication. For instance, while communicating in person or a video call, there are details such as body language and eye contact that definitely affect communication and its effectiveness, however, the mindset traits mentioned above can basically be utilized in any type of communication whether verbal or written.
It’s also important to ensure our messaging is respectful and empathic, recognizing to treat people the way we want to be treated. Also knowing people are not always in their highest state of mental health and life events affect them (e.g. the pandemic that we live in these days). We should recognize that for these traits to be developed, we need to create a safe environment where people can freely express themselves without feeling that they might be judged or blamed. For instance, talking about Continuous communication, an engineer should feel comfortable talking about the fact that they are stuck on a problem which they have already reported two times. The third time communicating a similar message is not a blame trigger, it’s an ask-for-help trigger! Lastly, communication doesn’t have to be boring! By combining storytelling and a sense of humor while being concise, you can captivate your audience; get them hooked until the end of your message while being more influential. Have you noticed that most Ted talkers try to be funny? This is certainly not a coincidence.
I mentioned what an excellent communicator needs in their arsenal to be successful but why do these traits matter and how can a team benefit on their path of becoming high performing? Here is a list of things that comes to mind as benefits:
- Ensures we are working on the right tasks with the right priority
- Ensures we are not double working on tasks. We are simplifying tasks by getting help from others
- Mitigates mistakes from happening and items being forgotten or fall through cracks
- Gives stakeholders peace of mind as progress is being made
- Issues putting success at risk are known as early as possible
- Misunderstandings are avoided, hence, relationships are improved
- Avoids confusion on ownership and accountability
- Makes people feel appreciated for their efforts and their value to the organization
I Would love to hear your feedback, learn from you’r experience, and update this blog post in my communication journey! Feel free to reach out to me :)