Brent Sanders

Brent Sanders

Full-Stack Engineer, Technical Leader, Entrepreneur & Operator

Effective Product Communication

Removing emotion and getting the point across.

January, 7th 2020

unsplash-logoViktor Talashuk

I was inspired to write this short post after reading about the Slack communications that came under fire from Away’s CEO. While Twitter and the internet at large were shocked by this style of communication, I found it to be sadly typical of an inexperienced and dysfunctional management team. If you missed it: The CEO required all conversations on Slack public, and had a persistent habit of giving caustic corrective feedback in those channels.

Snark Sucks

I’m often asked to step into a company’s tech team to regain productivity. One of the first indicators of a dysfunctional team I find is the language and tone used on Slack and email. The tone may resonate with frustration from management towards the product team or from the product team to bug-reporters. This tone is usually a reaction to a broken process or missing pieces in the product pipeline.

Ubiquitous Language

To aid in effective communication there should be a ubiquitous language in place. The entire business should strive to use the same words for the things in their business and product. Are we calling users customers or are we calling them partners? Work to identify this taxonomy and stick to them. Go with labels that the business uses, not necessarily what is in the database or codebase. It goes both ways.

Drop Excess Words

When communicating across teams it should strive to be as efficient as possible. Free of extraneous adverbs like “just”, “barely” or “even”. Remove emotion from your statements as they will cloud the message. Using matter of fact language, even scientific, can help extract the emotion. Using terms like “observe”, “indicate” and “result” over “saw”, “happened” and “worked”. Stating “I’m observing an error page” versus “The system just isn’t working” inherently carries more value.

Keep your message focused on the product and don’t stray into emotional territory. Expressing disappointment at a failure or your displeasure with a feature isn’t as productive as pointing out a missed or mistaken requirement. Diligently separate product feedback and performance feedback.

Be Polite

Your mother was right, use please and thank you. Be genuine with your politeness. Don’t gush, don’t apologize, just maintain a decorum consistent with an organization you are striving for.

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