Are You a Master Collaborator?

Healthy communication is critical for collaborators, whether you’re chatting on a conference call or chiming in on a shared workspace in the cloud. Based on the various times I’ve combed through résumés, the vast majority of workers consider themselves to possess “strong communication skills.” But how often do we really stop to evaluate ourselves?

As technology opens more doors to round-the-clock, across-the-globe communication, we also win more opportunities to make a mess of it. I’ve worked from a number of satellite offices in the past and have seen firsthand how simple (and preventable) miscommunication and misinterpretation can wreak havoc on a collaborative initiative.

On the Central Desktop blog this week, I considered a few easy ways to reevaluate the ways we engage our colleagues.

The following post originally appeared on the Central Desktop blog.

How are master collaborators cutting through the noise and making their messages heard?


Keep it simple, stupid – or, for a friendlier instruction, keep it simple and straightforward. A creative proof or PTO request is not the right forum for you to unleash your inner David Foster Wallace. Whether you’re collaborating in the cloud or in person, over-explanation is anathema to collaborators. Er…  over-explanation is bad.

“Translate it into 12-year-old language,” advises Kevin Daum. “…Take a minute or two to think about what the underlying theme or message is and translate the language into something that any adolescent can understand.”

Note that there’s a big difference between 12-year-old language and 2-year-old language; this isn’t about ga-ga-goo-gooing through your PowerPoint. 12-year-olds get it—unless you can’t explain it to them, of course. Just try to cut the clutter and add context where helpful.

This is especially important when collaborating across departments. Developers should remember that not everyone speaks Developer (and that this is not a sign of a weaker life form). Designers should remember that not everyone speaks Designer (and that this is not a sign of a weaker life form). And so on.

“I was thinking maybe you should consider taking steps to not sound quite so passive. That’s just my opinion.”

Confession: I’m guilty of this sometimes. A passive voice often results in more clutter, violating the KISS standard. More importantly, it waters down the forcefulness of your own ideas. Be direct (and you can be direct without being brusque). Think about how often you’re using passive words like “should” or “try.” Would you like to try to find some time to do that project that’s been on the back burner—or are you actually going to make the time?

Cool sarcasm, bro

When you crack a sarcastic joke in an email or a discussion thread, you have a 56% chance that your sarcasm will be detected. So…your odds aren’t great. Of course, your batting average will be a lot higher when dealing with your closest colleagues, but exercise caution with larger groups or less familiar recipients.

Set clear expectations

If you are requesting that someone provide a response or take ownership of an action item, make this clearly known. If you’re addressing a group, especially in an online scenario, it can be confusing to leave a bunch of questions open for volunteers.

Mind the forgotten language

How you communicate will have a major impact on your collaborative success—and communication is not limited to how you talk and write. Keep aware of your body language, too. If you’re slouching, shrugging, sighing and checking your phone every ten seconds, don’t be surprised when you’re labeled as a collabohater.

If you have any tips of your own for simplifying communication, or if you have pet peeves that you wish your colleagues would address prior to your next meeting, we’d love to hear about it. Some people may be more naturally effective communicators than others, but everyone can benefit from routine reassessment. Keep it simple!

Looking for more insights from the Central Desktop team, as well as experts at AirWatch by VMWare, Frost & Sullivan and more? Download PGi’s latest eBook: The Future of Business Collaboration 2015 Edition.


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