The Basics Of Interpersonal Communication
Communication is one of the most important skills in the workplace, but it's extremely underrated, especially in the tech industry. Communication is often regarded as a "soft skill", which makes its gravity less appealing. However, because building software is such a collaborative exercise, having excellent communication skills is absolutely crucial towards career progression, especially for senior levels.
Communication has a warm spot in my heart as it's something I was originally very bad at, but things got way better after I improved at it. After learning several communication lessons the hard way, my career took off as I was able to grow into an effective tech lead across Course Hero, Meta, and Robinhood.
In this article, we'll cover some of those basic interpersonal communication lessons I picked up, so you can learn how to empower your teammates to understand you better and make them like you more.
Understand Communication's Core: Empathy
Communication is a fundamentally human endeavor: You are trying to affect another human being in one of the most direct ways possible, whether it's trying to boost their mood, sharing feedback to help them improve, or convincing them to adopt an idea that you believe in.
This means that the absolute first question you need to ask before communicating anything is this: "If the tables were turned and I was on the receiving end of what I'm saying, how would I react?"
Really put yourself in the other person's shoes and strive to understand their status quo, context, and perspective. Once you do that, you will avoid basic mistakes like pinging someone with a late-night ask when they're already swamped with work or sharing feedback that's far too aggressive and is more destructive than it is constructive.
Use Tentative Language
This is one of the most basic ways to really level up your communication skills, and it literally only takes a couple seconds here and there across your day. The idea is to avoid making bold, over-confident statements, adding on softer language to create a friendlier ambiguity instead. Here's an example:
Bad: This is wrong. This system will completely break if the user doesn't have internet access.
Good: I'm not sure if this code will behave well when the user doesn't have network access. Maybe you can shut off your wifi while testing to see what happens?
The second method of communication is far superior as it makes it clear that it's an opinion and not a fact with "I", adds ambiguity with "not sure", and also uses "Maybe" to suggest a constructive resolution.
It's important to remember that not everyone has thick skin and that you can always be wrong. Even if you're 99.9% sure of something and are lucky enough to have thick skin yourself, you should use these techniques to show more care for your teammate and account for that 0.01% chance. Tentative language is truly one of the most powerful techniques where everybody wins: You have a higher chance of getting your point across and landing impact, you don't look terrible if it turns out that you are actually wrong, and your teammates will be happier as they enjoy working with you more.
Have Welcoming Body Language
One of the most painful feelings is sitting across from someone, talking to them about something you really care about, and it just seems like they don't care. A common root cause behind this is that this other person didn't realize there's far more to communication than just the words that are spoken.
There's a large physicality to communication that simply can't be ignored: It's a big part of how humans evolved to understand one another. When you're talking with someone, especially if you're on the listening side, use your body to show that you care. Here's just some tactics on how to do that:
- Nod if you agree with something they say
- Smile and laugh if they're talking about something positive
- Furrow your brow and shake your head a little if they're talking about something negative
- "Talk" with your eyes - Eyes are so powerful for conveying a wide range of emotion
- Lean in if they're talking about something serious
If you're working in a remote environment, all of this is even more important as you have less physical presence to work with and relationships naturally feel weaker and more disconnected in these settings.
At a meta-level, almost everyone has that one friend who's really good with people and makes everyone feel like they care. The next time you interact with them, observe their body language as well - There's probably a tactic or two that you can pick up!
I hope you enjoyed this basic interpersonal communication guide and picked up a trick or two. As a software engineer, it can be easy to forget about communication and focus more on the code, but this will come at a heavy detriment to your career.
If you want to go really deep on communication, you can watch my 9-part Effective Communication Masterclass Series.