Communication Like Technical Skills Need To Be Worked On !

Do you work in the Tech Industry? Are you a software engineer, a data scientist, a graphic designer , ML engineer , Dev Manager, Test Specialist, IT Architect, Client Solutions Specialist, Digital Sales Specialist … no matter what you do, communication is a skill that does not time out!

This equally applies to any role where you have to collaborate and work with people, which covers a lot of areas.

Hybrid work environments, remote working, more time spent on screen, on video, has increased significantly. For some this has been overwhelming and one area that has suffered is communication. The way in which you communicate with others and portray yourself on screen has an impact. Your working environment is made up of people, voices, opinions, strategies, problems, solutions and a whole range of ways in which to communicate the latter. Most of the time there are complex scenarios that need to be investigated, shared, questioned and communicated to small or large groups. In all cases, there are some simple ways in which you can improve your communications.

In the last 12 months I have co-facilitated multiple 12 hour courses spread over 3 morning online sessions, titled “Advanced Communications for Technical Leaders”. These are highly interactive sessions, all done over video, Webex in our case, to help participants improve the impact of their presentations as well as their ability to influence and align with others. In the engineering space, as we have moved in some cases, completely remotely, being able to fully participate in discussions is ultra important.

I am right, therefore, you are wrong !

One area I think we are all familiar with is the scenario where nobody agrees and the ability to move forward seems like it is blocked. Sometimes, it turns into arguments, people can let their emotions get the better of them, and the positive outcomes that were the goal seem that bit farther away.

The ability to work on how you align in your communications allows you to be much more genuine in how you might deliver your thoughts. By allowing yourself to be curious about what others are saying and thinking is key to alignment. Agreeing and aligning, are not the same thing ! Understanding that “gap” and asking questions and summarising what you think is being said is a worthy thing to try and focus on.

My Camera Is Staying Off !

There are times when many of us have our camera off during online meetings. Sometimes it is a necessity, and sometimes it is out of habit. However, if you want to have more impact with your communications, and more favourable outcomes then having your camera on is one of the simplest steps to do that.

Centering yourself on screen and ensuring you can be heard clearly is key to this. Investing in a front light and an external microphone can significantly help, its not just for streamers you know ! It is the reason why they do it, to have better impact.

Eye lock is another technique that is favoured by those wanting to engage deeper, and that is essentially looking direct at your camera. Having your camera on and having eye lock are 2 very simple ways that you can improve your online meeting communications.

Maybe you disagree ? If so, have a look at the technical leaders you work with and see how they choose to be present and communicate online. They want to communicate with impact and do it because they are after positive outcomes, and having a camera on when communicating is a small part of helping with that.

Have More Impact In Communications, Try The 4MAT Model Maybe ?

So you have a presentation to do or need to communication something complex or need collaboration? The 4Mat model is a great tool to focus your thoughts.

The Why ! What is the purpose, reason or benefits of what you are communicating? What is the motivation ?

The What ! Are there facts, models or examples you can provide for what it is that you presenting? Let yourself clarify what you are talking about.

The How ! What actions need to be taken, and what are the tools , methods or processes that can enable them.

The What If ? How can the communication be improved upon by identifying risks, asking questions and looking at contingencies.

When you use something like the 4MAT model you have enabled yourself to be open to what you are communicating fully. You have done your best to help those around you understand what is being said, and that is the basis for which your influence and your ability to align can merge to help for better communications.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Some thoughts on how communication can go wrong from Tim Pollard. Do we want to punish each other with slide deck presentations. It is not all about the formula of eye lock, body language and a dozen other things. He talks about “Retelability” , the ability for someone else to convey your message because you been so clear and compelling in your communications to them.

Is Anyone Out There ?

Why does it matter, because no matter what I say nobody is listening to me! That can be a reason why people don’t bother with trying to improve communications, because maybe it is someone else’s fault. This sounds harsh to say this, but it is a visible reality for many. Maybe there is only one way to do something, and it is my way. Maybe you don’t really know what someone is saying, but you have spent the last few minutes thinking about what you are going to say next and that’s whats going to matter. Maybe you get stressed when you have to communicate ideas or collaborate with people because it’s not your job. In any case, nobody is listening !!!

Do you recognise any of this in yourself or others? Communications can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be hard, and it can be highly enjoyable as a way to learn and stay curious. I for one, am constantly trying to improve and learn as I go. What can you do to help influence others, to join the conversation, and not feel isolated.

Listen ! The old saying of having 2 ears and one mouth for a reason ! Listening is exactly that. Giving yourself the permission to just listen. Not think of what you are going to say next but seeing others perspective, and being able to then agree based on knowing what has been said. We don’t always agree, but by listening we open ourselves up to opportunity of aligning.

Consult ! Be open and be able to ask questions. Try and gather the facts as a group, and get the ideas going around certain options and how they might pan out or not.

Lead ! Be clear in your communications and use positive language. I try to use “and” rather than “but” for example. You still get your point across. Summarise what is being said and try and focus on actions not just problems.

What More Can We Ask Of Ourselves

Developing our technical skills in the tech community can be really rewarding and we get excited about using new technologies and getting projects over the line. There is an equally interesting opportunity to work on communication skills, in a manner that will bring about better and positive outcomes as well as build better relationships with colleagues.

Let me leave you with Louise Evans speaking at TedxGenova a few years ago, talking about how we own our behaviours around communicating. How do we sit in different “chairs” along our communication journeys, and where do we spend most of our time, either helping, judging, being mindful or ….

I hope the above has been helpful to you. As always, be kind !

The Nature Of The CardBoard Programmer


You: Afternoon Chewy.
Chewy: {silence}
You: I have been context switching all morning but I am still stuck on one issue. Getting this segmentation fault when I run this python script against larger data sets. Doesn’t happen on my Mac with 10GB mem 3GB swap given to my minikube setup.

Chewy: {stares back, in silence}

You: I know! And when I deploy in my Kubernetes cluster in IBM Cloud I am getting the same segmentation fault.
Chewy: {looks puzzled}
You: Anyhow, it’s a resource issue of some kind. There are C modules in place within the python runtime on ubuntu … files ….
Chewy: { stares … silence}
You: Hang on… what’s my ulimit value. “ulimit -n” … 1024 …still has default values in the running container.

andy@ubuntu:sudo vim /etc/sysctl.conf # add the following line to it fs.file-max = 65535 # run this to refresh with new config andy@ubuntu:~$ sudo sysctl -p

You: Its fixed!
Chewy: {alway’s helpful in a pickle, stares back silently}

The Cardboard Programmer

Sometimes all you need is a cardboard cutout of your famous chosen Guru! When trying to move forward on a problem, or overcome a blocking point it’s easy to go down paths that are not going to yield results. Maybe you have X amount of things to do before you think you can get to the point where you will have some result you can analyse. Maybe you already did them. Maybe you are at a dead end. You already stood up and went for a coffee. Slept on it. But there it is, still a problem.


Rubber Duck Debugging suggests a rubber duck as per the book The Pragmatic Programmer which goes into what do you do, as an individual and as a team, if you want to create software that’s easy to work with and good for our users.  Whether its a colleague, a rubber duck or chewy, it’s a technique you probably are well aware of not only as someone in software but as a living breathing human being!


Becoming Chewy and Active Listening

I suggest actively seeking opportunities to be that cardboard programmer….or…be that active listener. It is at once a learning experience, a nice thing to do, and has a mushroom effect on one’s communication style.




I set you that challenge!

Try it for a day.

Then try and stop doing it.



Attributed to the Dalai Lama is the quote

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; But when you listen, you may learn something new.”

This is the advantage of the active listener. I always equate it to reading. People absorb books and get lost in the worlds they create. We are at the height of active thinking/listening when we read. We may interpret, have different thoughts on what is happening or agree/disagree with sentiments made, but we are always learning.

An opportunity and the challenge.