Our Six Principles for Effective Communication

As we’ve learned how to improve communication over the years, we’ve assembled some simple principles to help our SOUTHIES

Getting communication right is the cornerstone of our success at SOUTHWORKS. Why? Because we work primarily in teams, and good communication is essential to successful teamwork – it also takes up more than 50% of our work. We’ve thought a lot about communication, and as we’ve learned how to do it better over the years, we’ve assembled some simple principles that help our SOUTHIES communicate as effectively as possible…

What’s that, you’d like to hear what they are so you can benefit from our experience? OK, sure!

Part of effective communication is nailing the how, when, where, and why. Whether communicating in person, by email, video chat, or some other way, how do we all keep each other in the loop without getting tangled up in information that isn’t meant for us? To communicate clearly, we need to start with a clear philosophy, so we stick to the following six principles.

1. Write it down

We’ve already talked about our async culture – we keep our communications async primarily, and in real time – say, a quick call to figure something out – as required. We also prefer carefully constructed written communication over long meetings because it benefits everyone who needs it rather than only those in the room. Moreover, you can re-read an email as many times as you need rather than trying to understand a spoken message on the fly. Meetings also present timing issues: syncing calendars takes up time that could be used to simply get the message down clearly in writing, ultimately diluting its effectiveness. And let’s not forget that a one-hour meeting with ten people doesn’t really use up just one hour – it uses up ten!

2. Clarity and specificity

Every word we say needs to convey something meaningful, which is why we try to avoid adjectives like faster or better (How much faster? Better in what way?), unclear statements such as “I have a few questions” (How many is a few?), weasel words that make unsubstantiated claims, generalizations, acronyms, and jargon. In the end, all of these detract from the conciseness of the communication because, just like unclear communication, they create more work, requiring the receiver to take time seeking clarity or finding missing information.

Our communications should be so clear that they’re not open to interpretation. And what can’t be misinterpreted? Facts. So, we replace unclear statements with hard facts, numbers, and defined concepts. This also extends to questions and answers. There are four acceptable answers as far as we’re concerned: yes, no, a number, or “I don’t know, I’ll follow up” – and of course, we need to ask our questions in a way that makes this possible.

3. The “so what?” test

Communication needs to have a reason, so we aim to keep the “so what?” question in mind – and answer it – with everything we write.

4. Go straight to the (correct) source

When you need information quickly, nothing beats a good ol’ phone call – go straight to the source and ask clearly and directly for what you need. That’s what we do when we’re in a genuine hurry (however, we’re keen to minimize the use of phrases like “ASAP” – if everything is “urgent”, nothing is truly urgent anymore: it’s a “boy who cried wolf” situation). Who you ask is crucial too – if you want an answer, ask the person who will know rather than asking the wrong people, or multiple people, where the message can get lost in translation.

5. Recipient playback

We can also use questions and answers to make sure people have understood our communications. This is even more beneficial when it’s those receiving them who summarize what they understood and seek clarity on anything they missed. It’s all well and good for the person delivering the message to summarize at the end, but getting the recipient to do it is much more powerful for ensuring that it’s been understood.

6. Time it right

Another important aspect of communication is the timing – for instance, following good news up with bad news doesn’t do either justice, so we give each their own time and space. This also comes into play when picking the best time to send a message – for example, if it’s a longer message that needs time to digest, perhaps send it at the end of the day so the recipient can review it first thing in the morning. Dealing with a communication can often get in the way of whatever we’re doing at the time, and a written message allows us to decide when to stop what we were doing and engage with it (more thoughts from us on managing focus time here).

We apply these six principles in our daily communications with customers, partners, colleagues, and our whole company. We believe our philosophy for effective communication enables us to work as well as we do, and it also reflects our universal principles of trust, autonomy, and discipline.

Want to know more about SOUTHWORKS’s ethos, communication philosophy, and way of working? Check out our Careers page to learn more about our culture, and how it enables our SOUTHIES to grow like crazy and breeds success for our business.