Communication is a key strength that is required no matter what you do for a living. Since tech companies have defined the “team” as the basic unit of an organization, communication skills take on a new significance.
However, not every developer possesses the same skills, when it comes to communicating ideas, exchanging feedback, and articulating thoughts on a new product update or feature.
In this article, we are looking at ways to improve communication for your dev team and show how visual communication can help you not only communicate faster and more effectively, but also in a way that’s fun.
5 ways to improve communication for your dev team
1. Learn to clarify your thoughts
We all live in our own heads. We come to a conversation with our own worldviews and perspectives, which can make it difficult to communicate with one another.
When you are communicating with your dev team, you are transmitting information. For example, you are telling your colleague to change the color of a specific button. What happens is essentially a three step process that is a translation from your thoughts into words and then into actions.
Words – Thoughts – Actions
If you have a team meeting or are explaining something to your colleague ask yourself: What are you trying to say? And how are you saying it? What is the reaction on your colleague’s end (facial expression, gesture, verbal feedback)? What actions do you want to come out of this?
In short: What are you looking for in this conversation?
Are you giving feedback on a new feature, are you making a suggestion, are you pointing out a mistake or are you trying to encourage a colleague when they are lost.
Learn to clarify your thoughts and try to focus on which actions you want to inspire.
2. Spend time understanding the problem
Most professional conversations revolve around finding solutions. However, it can be helpful to focus first on understanding a problem that we might have. What do we need to find a solution for? How can we define the problem? Can we break it down into smaller parts? What might seem like a detour is actually the fastest route to finding a solution that sticks.
In his book “Improve your Communication skills” by Alan Barker, the author breaks down conversations into a two stop process that he calls “first stage thinking” and “second stage thinking”:
“First-stage thinking is thinking about a problem; second-stage thinking is thinking about a solution.”
Both stages exist co-dependently. Obsessing about a problem doesn’t help, but trying to find a solution without understanding the problem doesn’t help either.
In product terms, this means that you are developing a solution that is fitting as tight as possible to the problem your customers are having. What exactly is it that they need? What can you do to understand them/their problem better? By focusing on the problem first, you are taking the first and essential step to finding a solution.
3. Communicate visually
“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” — Walt Disney
The ways how we communicate are changing significantly. Gunther Kress has coined the term “visual age” to suggest that visual communication is taking over. Visual communication is not just a trend, but a development, shaping how we are communicating now and how we will do so in the future.
In short: Visual communication helped our ancestors to communicate and it is helping us today. How is visual communication impacting business communication? What is the consequence for misunderstandings? And how does faster communication help dev teams achieve more and worry less?
Visual communication is so effective because it can be processed much faster. Both cognitively and emotionally.
I know I am biased, but we at Usersnap developed a visual communication solution that is used by teams at Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Our solution helps dev teams communicate visually and make annotations directly in the browser. It is not just much faster to exchange ideas, it is also much more fun.
We offer a free trial for our product so you can see for yourself what that is like. Sign up here.
4. Embrace feedback
A conversation is a two-sided process. There is usually a person speaking and another one listening, a source and a receiver, as it is called in most communication theories.
Complexity arises because everyone comes to conversation with their biases and pre-conceived perception. That is why summarising someone else’s ideas is so helpful for successful communication.
The idea is basically to ask: “Did I understand you correctly?”
The “Feedback”-model by Claude E. Shannon is famous in communication studies and one of the most popular communication models today. Shannon created a model designed to facilitate information transmission over telephone lines. It was later complemented by Warren Weaver, who added the idea of feedback, turning it into a loop.
This technical model is being applied to personal communication as well. That way, the model is no longer used to describe the technical transmission of communication (with the “channel” being the wire and the receiver being the physical handset of the telephone).
Instead, the model describes personal communication in which source and receiver are two human beings talking to each other.
Interesting still is the notion of feedback here. The idea is that it is almost impossible not to give feedback. If you are receiving a message, you are reacting in one way or another (verbally, non-verbal, with language, facial expression or your posture).
The source, one person, sends an idea across that is encoded in words. It is decoded and received by another person listening who sends their feedback back to the source.
What can you learn from this for communicating with your dev team?
Feedback happens all the time. But in order to improve our communication skills we need to think about how we can communicate the feedback we are sending off nonverbally in a verbal way as well. This means, first of all, acknowledging and being aware of our own opinions on a given subject. And then trying to put them into words so they can re-enter the conversation.
5. Try to hear what isn’t said
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw
Verbal communication (either written or oral communication) is just one of three major communication forms next to nonverbal and visual communication. Great team communications signifies that people hear what isn’t said and address communication gaps heads on.
Here is what you can do to prevent communication gaps from harming your productivity:
- Revise each meeting and think about what questions have been left unanswered or what questions you personally can think of that have not been asked.
- Think about each team member and their role in your project. Do they all have the necessary information to proceed?
- Ask yourself: What was your main message and did it get across? What questions could other team members have and why might they have not asked them (yet).
- Create a safe work environment that allows people to speak up at any point and ask questions no matter what they are. We’ve written about the importance of psychological safety before, so if you want to dive deeper into this topic, here is our article.
Wrapping it up.
Improving communication is an ongoing process. It is not one of these one and done-things.
The most important thing is to make sure that everyone is well informed, feels safe to ask any question they might have, and is able to hone their communication skills in verbal and visual communication.