My biggest learning while building a startup

Let me start by telling you, why this post is worth your time.

In the past 4 years, I have directly worked with 100+ people, sold to 150+ customers, spoken to more than 100 investors and had a (40min+) conversation with a 1000 different people.

I have been part of an engineering team, worked with Sales guys, led a marketing team, brainstormed with Product Managers, create processes for Operations, learned the hard way how to work with Designers.

I have interacted with lawyers (very tough!), worked with accounting team, negotiated with vendors (that includes our previous chaiwalla) and a hundred other kinds of people.

What surprised me is that there is one thing that cut across all of these functions — Effective Communication.

Watch this video to understand what is bad communication

Technically, neither of them is incorrect but they are not able to have a conversation.

So what is communication?

As you can see there are multiple parts of communication. There is a sender, who has some intent, he/she creates a message, sends it over a medium (which has noise), the receiver receives the message, creates a perception and then gives feedback.

There are 2 components of a message, verbal message (which you know) and the non-verbal message (which is your body language and is equally important).

So, a seemingly innocuous process of 2 people talking is in fact highly complex one. There are multiple points of failures — sender may not send the right message, their body language maybe incorrect, there might be too much noise, the receiver might not be in the right state to receive the message.

It is not just about sending your message, it’s about making sure your message is received by the other person.

Coming back to my point, effective communication is the single most important skill that you can develop. It can win you customers, it can get you funding, it can help you make allies, it can help you get any task done!

The most common excuse that I get these days, is that I had told him/her to do this but they didn’t do it. Or, I did it right, but that guy messed it up.

If someone didn’t do a job well, which you told them about, it’s as much your fault as it is their fault. Did you ensure that the other person gets your message, did you ensure if they actually understood it, did you ask if they need some help with it? The problem is that most of us speak to convince and not communicate. The moment you accept that failed communication is as much your fault as that of the other person, your problem is solved.

Wait! Effective communication is not just about speaking well, it’s equally about listening. A good communicator speaks only 30% of the time, rest of the time they listen. You would be surprised the amount things you would get to know, if you focus less on hammering in your message and focus more listening to what the other person has to say.

In the above image, you can see that each person have their own reality. This is the context in which they exist and it determines how they perceive things. Let me illustrate with an example.

When I was small, we would play this game. We would sit in a circle, one person will start with a message whisper it to the other person (in their ear), the next person would do the same with the next and so on. At the end, last person would tell what they had heard.

I once started the game with the message ‘My mom doesn’t take me to this shop, because they sell interesting things to kids’ ended up with ‘My mom works in a shop that sells kids’.

The problem was each person sitting in the circle perceived the message in their own reality, there were disturbances in the communication channel and their reality differed from the other person’s. Hence, by the time a message goes across a circle it looses all it’s meaning.

Even something as tangible as writing code, involves communication. What do you think it is, when someone else reads your code and works on top of it? It’s communication, just that the medium is non-verbal (that’s why great programmers write comments and make their code readable).

So next time you feel agitated because someone didn’t do what you asked them to do, ask yourself did I communicate it properly.

When you feel someone said wrong things to you or insulted you, ask yourself were they really being mean or did I misinterpret it!

When you feel, the other person just doesn’t understand what you are saying, ask yourself am I trying to understand what they are saying!

When you feel the other person doesn’t care about you, is it really true or it’s just their reality and your reality are totally different.

Effective communication is not only critical at your work life, but even your personal life. It can help you win a heart, it can let you make someone feel special, it can help you add warmth in relationships.

I give you a simple mantra to communicate effectively. Every time you are about to speak, wait, take 5 seconds, think what’s a better way to say that thing and speak that instead.

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