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At OutSystems, we've always been very proud of our culture. If there was one thing we tried to preserve the most since day zero it was our values, which have guided us whether we were a company of 10, 100, or 1000 people, colocated in only one country, one continent, or all over the world.
So, to help us spread the word we created this small book — The Small Book of The Few Big Rules — which describes the core rules of behavior we practice at OutSystems. In a nutshell, we have seven big rules:
- Ask Why
- The Small Crisis
- Challenge the Status Quo
- Be Helpful
- Communicate to be Understood
In this post, I’m focusing on rule #6, communicating to be understood, and on how it can make a big difference in our lives. If you want to know more about what makes OutSystems a great place to work, I highly recommend you read the book.
Everything is Communication
I could just stop here, giving you some space to reflect on this. Like the title suggests, communication is everywhere. Communication is on what you say, on how you say it, on how your body behaves but is also in what you don’t say and in what you don’t do. It’s on the sender but it’s also on the receiver. So, communication is a really complex thing that involves aspects that you can control but a lot of others that you don’t. Even when everything is going well sometimes you just need a wrong choice of words to completely mess it up and ruin all the good work you were doing.
Communication plays a big role not only in your job but in your everyday life. It will influence your relationships, the old ones but mostly the new ones. The old friends already know you, they can understand beyond what you’re saying, they know that when you scream to them “go away!” what you’re saying is “please stay!” and they will stay. Of course that you can still mess up a relationship with an old friend based on communication issues but the point here is that the receiver will be more open, more receptive, to it. The same about you, you know them, most likely from past experiences you now know exactly how to talk with those old friends.
But what if I need to talk with someone who I don’t know very well? How do I know what I can say or cannot say? How will I know if I said something that was misunderstood?
Well, honestly I have no idea how to answer that. But I don’t feel bad about it, I strongly believe that there’s is no silver bullet to avoid communication issues, but I also believe that there are some things we all can do to raise our odds. Let me share some tips that I use to try to overcome this daily challenge (try is a keyword here, meaning that these are not silver bullets and consequently you will still fail ever now and then).
1- Be yourself
That’s it! Show who you are, what are your values, what you agree and what you disagree with. Show your best but don’t be afraid to show your weaknesses as well. Just be you. (please don’t stop reading here, read at least tip #2 to avoid some disaster)
2- Adapt to the audience
Being yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make some adjustments to your communication style depending on the audience. You should do it to be successful at it. Try to understand the context of your audience, what are their backgrounds, what are they looking for, if they come from a different culture do some research about it and apply what you discovered. You can adapt your communication without losing your identity.
3- (Un)Conscious Bias
One of the communication killers - bias. Whether conscious or unconscious, bias plays a big role in successful communication. It might affect both the sender and the receiver. Bias is built based on our past, and everyone knows that we cannot remove our past right? So, how can we remove the bias from the equation? The answer to this one is pretty simple, you can’t. It’s just not possible. No matter who you are or what you do you will always have some kind of bias, it will always be there. So, is this the end of the road? Of course not, you can learn how to detect it and consciously remove it from that specific situation. It will not disappear, it will remain there ready to show up in the next opportunity, but your job is to be aware of it and act as soon as bias shows up again. I will not lie to you, this is not easy, not at all. You will fail a lot of times until you master it, assuming that any of us will be able to master it one day.
4- Ask for feedback
This is where the magic happens. If you have ever worked in a place with a strong culture of giving and receiving honest feedback you know how important it is to improve yourself and others. Be open to receiving feedback, listen more, and talk less. Let the other person feel comfortable to say what he/she really wants to say. Be ready to listen to some hard things, don’t be defensive, don’t go away looking for excuses for your mistakes, and don’t take it personally. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails sometimes, I fail a lot. The best part of it is that whenever you fail and you receive that feedback from others in a non-judgmental and constructive way you will get better. It doesn’t mean that you will not fail again, sometimes you will. But if you keep the feedback cycle going you will see that that 1% improvement you will achieve at each try will make the whole difference sooner or later.
In summary, communication is a box full of surprises. It’s a skill that like any other skill needs a lot of practice to master. Although this post is focused on communication I believe that we can apply most of these tips in a lot of other skills or situations.
Try to always be yourself in anything you do, do some adjustments along the way without losing your identity, be aware of that virus called bias, and promote an environment of constant feedback. You will see major improvements sooner or later.
I hope you were able to understand exactly the message I tried to pass, but there’s nothing like reacting with feedback to make it crystal clear. ;)