Saturday, October 22, 2011

A thought about Verbal vs. Written Communication in Teams

The topic of verbal vs. other forms of communication has come up for me a fair bit recently with a friend of mine trying to keep an off-shore team working efficiently. His teams are using OpenAgile as a framework.

I decided it was time to make a post about the subject.

I came up with this example as a Flight Instructor when explaining to students about the difficulties that air traffic controllers face when talking to pilots on the Radio.  The controllers cannot easily hear inflection in your voice, so the words used are very important and need to be completely accurate and follow specific rules.

This idea is even more significant when discussing the idea of ‘documentation’ or ‘email’ communication between co-workers and/or team members.

Consider the following phrase which is purposely designed to invoke emotion.

I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY.

Every person who reads this will read it differently!

Let me explain.....  Follow this explanation by saying each of the following OUT LOUD.
The learning will be better that way.

The () characters are the explanation of the different possible interpretation.

  • Put a loud or raised emphasis on the bolded word.
  • Say the rest of the words without emphasis.  
  • Leave a few moments before each attempt.

Here we go…....

I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (Perhaps implying someone else did)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (out right denial)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (although I may have written it)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (but I may have said someone else's is)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (but perhaps your dog is)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (but she is now)
I NEVER SAID YOUR WIFE WAS UGLY. (I said she was beautiful)


As you can see, I may have had an intended purpose for my message to you.  However, your interpretation could be considerably different than what I had hoped for.

Agile Frameworks such as OpenAgile or SCRUM, rely on high-bandwidth communication between team members.

Consider this example next time someone tells you that written communication is as effective as in-person or webcam verbal communication between members in high-performance teams.

If you are in an environment requiring remote communications, make sure that the remote workers have access to high-bandwidth communications capacity within their teams.