Do you need another process or do you need to fix communication?

Proper processes are key to ensuring things are done in an efficient manner. They should scale with your organization?—?as you grow in headcount, the more you typically need. Further, mission-critical tasks that have to occur regularly should also have strong processes around them as well. But with that said, you should always create process with caution. Always ask yourself : Are we creating a process because we are too lazy to address a root communication problem?

Tackling communication is hard

No one can be faulted for taking the easy route. We all want results now. We all have limited bandwidth. Sometimes, it’s just easier to slap on a new process than to sort out something as messy as a communication problem. However, ignore these problems long enough and you will destroy your company culture?—?which is far worse. Poor communications almost always result in silos. Silos lead to anger. And anger leads to suffering. (At least that’s what I learned from Yoda.)

To be clear, no company has communication perfected. If you hear one claim that they’ve done it, nod and back away slowly. A good rule of thumb is whenever you have more than 1 person in a box (AKA cubicle, office, etc.)— there will eventually be misunderstandings. Heck, sometimes I confuse myself?—?let alone someone else.

To complicate matters, often, the tools that were designed to help communications (I’m looking at you, Slack), come with their own issues. How many times have you had misunderstandings through chat? How many times have you misinterpreted sarcasm through email? How often have you missed messages? (Again, looking at you, Slack.)

So while there is a lot of advice out there on how to better communicate?—?ranging from mirroring, using body language, and having action items after meetings, I want to dig into some of the more overlooked considerations.

Trust, context, and assuming good intent

(PSA: If you don’t use Oxford commas, you’re an animal. Half-kidding.)

At the core of most communication-breakdowns is a lack of trust. This manifests itself in many forms such as: not trusting that others have our best interests at heart; not trusting that others understand what we do; or not trusting that others are good at their jobs.

Surprisingly, a lack of trust is not the result of poor attitudes or low intelligence (admit it?—?you had these nasty thoughts at least once in your career). From my experience, most trust issues stem from a lack of bonding. To me, this makes a lot of sense. We’re human after all (yes, even devs.). Taking the time to get to know each other over coffee, or lunch goes a long way. Through basic socializing, you start to understand each others’ worlds, what each other values, what challenges you each face, what talents you each have. You start to approach people differently when you know a little more about them. All this knowledge results in one of of the most important things in a workplace: the benefit of the doubt?—?or as I like to call it, the assumption of good intent.

When people “wrong” us, it’s easy to think they did it on purpose, or that they’re terrible people. But changing your frame of mind so that you think that they had good intentions changes everything. Suddenly, you don’t see events as hostile, or malicious, but rather as a misunderstanding that can be addressed.

Another culprit that results in poor communications is the lack of context. We are all achievers to some extent, but we should never allow this pressure to perform be an excuse for not giving the proper context to someone. Let me share a story with you.

Many years ago, when I worked at Autodesk as a marketing manager?—?I was trying to get a feature pushed out quickly on an online store. I planned everything out thoroughly, assigned tasks, did things myself?—?I felt I was a rockstar. However, my need for speed left a wake of confusion. My teammates didn’t understand what assigned tasks were about, or even if they were important, or what the end goals were. My thinking was that I’d assign very simple tasks and not burden them with the distraction of too much information (hint: this was a bad move). Needless to say, things were not going well.

My boss at the time, pulled me aside (virtually, as I was working remotely) and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. She said, “You can go fast alone, but you will go further as a team. Take people with you.” It was a valuable lesson. I learned that giving co-workers context does several things:

  • It orients them. No one likes to work in the dark.
  • It helps them prioritize. Many like to work on important things.
  • Most importantly, it shows respect. People like to feel valued.

Now, I’m not saying ignore process. Not at all. But know that even the best processes fail if they aren’t communicated well (funny, that). You can only ignore poor communication for so long. So if you’re finding your place of work is constantly creating new processes or is suffering from constant drama— take a step back and figure out if something larger is at play.

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Rommil Santiago