Communication Outside the Codebase

It’s easy to get away as a poor communicator when you work on a small team sharing a small office space. When the team around you begins to grow and face-to-face interactions become shorter and less frequent, the teams that have invested in strong communication skills and competencies start to stand out.

For engineers, time spent improving communication skills often feels like a fuzzy, low-yield investment. In practice, however, we’ve seen the contrary. Excellence in communication, coupled with over-communication, is a core principle of our engineering team at Simon.

The goal of this post is to capture some of the characteristics we’ve observed leading to successful communication within the company.

The Basics

Actions may speak louder than words, but words are pretty loud, too. Every time you communicate with another person, your demeanor will influence the other person’s opinion of you, as well as their desire to interact with you in the future. In other words, it is a chance for you to represent yourself in the best possible light. You should always take the following into consideration when engaging in open dialogue with your coworkers.

  • Always be thoughtful
  • Always be reliable
  • Know your expected SLA (Service Level Agreement) — when is someone expecting you to respond?
  • Go out of your way to ensure no one will misinterpret the intent of your message as anything other than trying to be helpful. Note that savvy use of emoticons and emojis can be quite helpful — but is never required — here =)

Before pressing “send” on your message,

  • Consider the state of mind, context, and expected responsibility of the person on the receiving end
  • Imagine that your message could be read by anyone in the company
  • Remember that everything is permanent

Contribute

Make an effort to distill your messages to their necessary essence. This isn’t always possible and sometimes is unnecessary; however, improving this skillset will serve you well. Some quick tips,

  • Don’t expect that readers will have the time to parse a run-on sentence or dereference pronouns
  • Don’t expect that readers will have the same context as you. Whenever possible, include supporting documents or links

Remember that talking isn’t the only thing you can do when there is a problem or discussion. Actions can speak louder than words here. Sometimes saying nothing or doing something is a better option that speaking first. Keep the following in mind:

  • Try to give advice that can be put into action versus meandering ponderings (in other words, offer solutions)
  • It is far more valuable to share a small proof of concept or just a snippet of code implementing your idea than it is to armchair quarterback

Keep Your Cool

You’re busy? So is everyone else. Being busy is no excuse for moody remarks or unprofessional conduct.

Keep your cool in stressful situations. Snapping at people is never productive, and besides, you will almost definitely regret it later. If someone really bothers you, make a note to address it after the stressful situation is resolved.

Where and When?

There are all sorts of ways to get in touch with people, each with its own expectations. The chart below attempts to distill some of those.

As the audience gets less specific, the guarantee that the message is understood diminishes. At Simon, we’ve seen that different audiences are partial to different mediums. Consequently, reinforcing messages over different mediums has had a higher likelihood for success. For example, a Slack message is often followed up with an email, which may very well contain a link to Google documentation.

In Conclusion

Investing in your communication hygiene and culture can have significant returns for your team in the long run. Getting from good to great takes leadership and structure. Maintaining great communication will help establish the strong foundation your company needs in order to successfully scale.