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Thoughtful Communication

I have built up some decent technical skills over the years, but out of all the daily things I do that make me feel effective in executing that technical work within the context of a larger team, communicating stands out as a skill that has the power to make or break the entire pace of a project.

Like most of these types of “soft skills” the secret to them is mostly to build awareness that you’re doing them: I’m communicating now, let me consider my words; be thoughtful.

Especially in a world where a lot of working communication now happens via Slack, there’s opportunity to put extra thought into your words.

For me, effective communication is about three things:

Context Setting

I think of setting the context as about starting the recipient of your message in a place that is known or familiar to them and then leading them into the new thing you’re trying to convey. I’ll usually start my messages

”Do you remember that weird bug we discussed last week on, I’ve done some investigating and here is what I found:"

"I have reviewed the mock-up that you sent me (inserts link to mock-up), I had a few follow-up questions about it:"

"Can we talk about project X? I want to make sure we are aligned on the timing and budget…”

Maybe messages that start out this way seem normal to you. That’s probably a good sign. But I do regularly encounter folks launching right into the middle of a thought, and we have to spend time walking things back and uncovering the context to have the effective part of the conversation. I even catch myself doing it, but usually, upon re-reading the message before hitting send, I will realize my opportunities for setting context and make revisions.

Think of it this way: You’re in the mode of the thing you are communicating, but they might not be. Say a few words to prepare their brain to take in some new information about a thing that at this moment may have fully fallen out of their focus.

Get to the points

Bullet points that is! I would say that if I ever Slack a message longer than one or two sentences, you can bet it likely has bullet points. It’s also a reason why most of the context statements above end in a colon; because once the context is set it’s time for bullets:

Remove Ambiguity

Ambiguity can be tough to self-assess; you can’t get it right every time. It’s also a careful balance between being concise and being clear. Can what I just said or wrote be interpreted in multiple ways? If so, it can help to add words that clarify statements, or reframe statements entirely:

“We can start working on this project earlier than expected in order to meet the set deadline, but with the increase in project scope we should revisit the overall development budget. Or said another way, I have concerns that what we’re now being asked to do will require more hours of effort."

"On line 36 of CarouselGridTabs.vue you are referencing a property that is not always set via the component props. Can you make sure to account for that situation and think through any other situations the component might have trouble dealing with?"

"Yes, let’s revert only today’s changes that were pushed to production. To be clear: production should be reverted to reflect it’s state from yesterday, and we will keep our newer updates in staging until we are given the greenlight to re-release them”

Like this last example, I think there is a lot of clarity to be given when answering questions. Try not to stick to simple “yes, no, ok” answers and be clear on what the answer entails. Using qualifying words like “only” or “never” or specific dates, versions or other contextual identifiers go a long way in sending clear messages.

Final thoughts

Putting all these things together makes for a decent framework to start communicating effectively:

But mostly it takes practice: Be in the moment when communicating; be thoughtful.