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How to develop faster? Better communication

Time management means a lot to us. Considering that much of the work we do is on a Team-as-a-service basis, we have to be proficient at managing our time.

I realized that we spend a huge chunk of our time communicating. And one way or another, communication is responsible – directly or indirectly – for a large part of our days. Directly, because timely communication can save us important minutes (or hours). Indirectly, because the quality of communication impacts the information passed along, which will then affect the time we have to spend on each issue.

Bazzinga! That’s it! Communication in a team is the fundamental step to have a focused and productive team, that will develop faster!

Many times, we just go to the person we need to communicate to and throw at her a huge amount of information. Doing that we stop whatever that person was doing. We take them out of their course or remove them from focus. That’s because our default type of communication is synchronous. We are used to it. Usually, when we need to ask something to someone we just interrupt her. Or we need to tell something, no matter how trivial, and we call the person to let her know. But there’s also another way: asynchronous communication and, at Near Partner, we try to use it a lot.

Synchronous, asynchronous… say whaaat?

Synchronous communication

Let me explain 😀

 

Synchronous communication

To communicate synchronously means that both persons have to be available at the same time. Whenever we are scheduling a meeting we are validating if the other person (or persons) are available to share time and space with us. When we talk to someone, we are also communicating synchronously.

What we are not always aware is that whenever we are invading someone else’s space and time two things can happen:

  1. That person might not be available to have a conversation with us. Even if she answers back her mind might not be there. Her answers or statements could be a light-hearted version of their thoughts and the communication is not as fruitful as it might be.
  2. The person might be doing something important that needs focus -some deep thought. When we interrupt that person, she might lose track of her reasoning. That means that in order to go back to where she was she will have to start the thought process all over again.

It’s a lose-lose situation. The person interrupting is not having her questions answered; the person who was interrupted was pulled out of her work.

 

How do we solve this?

To improve on these situations, we try to make all the team aware of the above-mentioned risks. It’s important that whoever needs to begin a conversation understands that the interlocutor might not be available to have the conversation. On the other hand, it’s important that no one feels obliged to answer a question when she is immersed in some kind of reasoning, or to engage in a conversation that she is not available to have. People must feel it’s ok to say, “I can’t right now”.

To make it easier, we try to follow two rules when communicating:

– We don’t take it personally;
– We don’t assume things from other people’s words.

It’s easier when it’s explicit what to expect.

So, when anyone is starting a conversation, it’s a good practice to:

– Send a message using an internal messaging app, asking for time from the person she wants to talk to;
– Inform the other person about the topic of the conversation – so the other can also participate in the decision on how urgent or important the issue is;
– If it can wait, fall back to an asynchronous type of communication – message or email;
– In case of emergency, then interrupt the person and talk directly.

If we’re on the other end as receptor of the communication, we should:

– answer about the availability to have the conversation immediately;
– if we are in the middle of an activity, only answer to urgent matters;
– if we can’t answer right away or have to reply negatively, try to do it ASAP.

Obviously, this does not mean that we only have conversations about urgent matters. There are many topics which are easier to discuss on a one-to-one conversation than through chat messages. Whenever that happens, one way is to break the chat cycle: “let’s talk, it’s easier” or “let’s get together at 2pm to talk”.

 

Phone calls!

It’s important to keep in mind that phone calls are also a type of synchronous communication. If you’re either making a phone call or receiving one, it’s important to act accordingly.

Whenever you’re calling someone, make sure it’s important to have the conversation synchronously, at that time. If it’s important and the other person does not pick up, send a message with the general topic and how urgent you think it is. Only call repeatedly if it’s really an urgent matter. There’s nothing more annoying than getting out of a meeting to take a phone call by someone who has been calling repeatedly just to find out it’s just a mundane issue – unless it’s your mother calling, obviously! 😉

 

Asynchronous communication

When I use email, Slack or any other messaging tool, that’s a way not to interfere with the time management of the rest of the team. I can ask now, you can answer whenever it suits you. There are many advantages to this. Even to me.

It gives me more time to think about the issue. I can validate things with others involved or I can check for myself. Truth is, sometimes I can even get to the answer alone – and the email ends up being a “this is the result / answer to this issue, right?”

One of the other advantages is that not only the communication is asynchronous, but it can be in group. Particularly if it happens in a chat room, I can ask the same question to several people. This means that if the subject needs some debate, I can even gain with the exchange.

Also, on a chat room, I can even launch some topic for discussion even if I don’t know who the best person to answer is.

 

So, let’s just communicate via email…

Obviously, this does not mean we should only communicate asynchronously. There are emotional aspects of a conversation which are very difficult to include in an email. It’s important to have in mind that, when sending an email, the other person is not “listening” or “seeing” me. Beware when using sarcasm or irony. It’s not easy to fine tune those in an email.

On the same note, if I’m receiving an email, I have to consider that the tone might not be the one I’m considering. Let’s not assume and give the sender a break…

Knowing this, it’s important to consider some tips about email communication:

– avoid too many exclamation or question marks – “???” and “!!!” are very easily misinterpreted;
– use smiles – make the conversation smoother and easier to be read;
– there are several words or sentences which are much harsher written than spoken – take that into account when writing (or reading) an email;
– don’t use irony or sarcasm in emails – or at least be aware of the potential consequences;
– be as clear and concise as possible – even if it takes longer and gives you an extra work crafting the message you’re sending.

 

Just to recap…

Obviously, this does not mean that we should just use asynchronous communication tools. There are some messages that are better passed on via emails and others that are better in a conversation.

Also, we would be very dull people if we only would talk according to pre-established rules. There’s room for surprises, laughter and happiness in our communication.

We always have to choose. As we choose the words and the topics we want to discuss we also have to choose the medium through which to communicate with others.

Nowadays there’s a usual trend: “Less discussion by email, more discussion through chats and other communication tools.”

Our answer? “Not so fast.

It is important to consider the time we are taking from others. It’s also our job to make the communication with others as efficient as possible. And sometimes the good old email is a great way to do it.

 

What do you think about this issue? Do you relate with it? Share some tips with us! There’s always room for improvement 😀

Pedro Veloso

I'm a serial entrepreneur and a (quasi-serial) father. I'm particularly fond of technology, solving problems and team culture, and my life lies at the intersection of those interests.