7 Dos and Don’ts of Communication: Shared Understanding and Alignment are the Objectives of Collaborative Work

This week I made an experience again which reminded me at one of my favorite movies “Groundhog Day” – the topic is about communication. There is plenty of literature written about communication out there, and I’ve decided to add my experiences as well. This is for me a continuous learning trying to get better in communication.

Last year I’ve learned from Jeff Patton about a major principle in communication when talking or creating User Story Maps. Jeff shared a picture about square, triangle and circle where I’ve found myself discussing with my colleagues about the same subject but a different understanding and level. Communication is never easy due to different perceptions of the sender and the recipient. Often when you are talking about a specific subject it looks like this:

Communication about a specific topic

Three people are talking about the same subject, but have different ideas in their mind what the want to communicate to each other. The idea behind it is very easy, and not always easy to achieve: “I am glad we all agree then.”.

Once you’ve exchanged your ideas the picture formula should become more like this:

Shared understanding

So how do you get there? Here are some ideas and experiences I made to get there:

  1. Write down your ideas as sharp as possible. If people don’t understand what you mean re-phrase it more concrete and sharp. But write them down!
  2. Writing is only one dimension of communication. Start to add sketches about your thoughts. Pictures tell more than words. Start sketching on the whiteboard or post-its, whatever helps to make your ideas visible.
  3. Don’t interpret that much. Interpretation always relies on assumptions. If you think you understand your counterpart, rephrase and ask about your interpretation and assumptions to find the same denominator.
  4. Ask yourself: If I am going to talk now, how much value do I add to the discussion or conversation.
  5. Listen, listen, listen! Try not to talk that much.
  6. Ask if you don’t understand what your counterpart has presented.
  7. Make sure everybody has the same level of conversation. Save details for the right time and type of conversation.

Something to add? Let me know about your experiences.

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