How to maintain healthy communication habits of remote teams

Original author: Taurie Davis
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Note trans. : This article is written by Taurie Davis, a designer from GitLab who likes to “identify problems, create reliable solutions and create intuitive interfaces.” It provides simple tips on how to improve communication not only in remote teams, but also in our daily life. Even if they seem obvious, their value manifests itself when we do not forget to constantly use them, forming a useful and advantageous habit for all.

In our company ("Flant"), we regularly conduct a performance review for all engineers (and not only) and are constantly working to improve this process. In particular, they understand the complexities of communication, both general and individual. Therefore, the problems raised by the author are close to us not only in theory: they perfectly overlap with the practical experience that we have gained. I hope their understanding will be useful for others.

xkcd # 1028 : “Communication” (see also its decryption )

Communication in the workplace can be a difficult problem. Misunderstandings and tensions are common, especially in the case of " asynchronous communication "(occurs when using tickets and e-mail instead of online chats - approx. transl.) , where there are even fewer keys to understanding the voice and its tone. Direct communication can be perceived as hard or rough. And when an omitted context is added to all this, mistakes in communication and emotions can transcend the very essence of the conversation. Improving mutual understanding and communication over time will help conscious attitude to the needs of the team and to your own needs.

Basic needs

There are cultural and situational features that shape the way we communicate with others. People react differently to situations, and understanding these differences can be the key to identifying successful communication strategies.


To communicate effectively, it is important to recognize the basic needs that both you and your colleagues have. Paloma Medina outlined six basic human needs that people face in the workplace:

  1. B elonging (involvement) - the need to belong to a group or community. Sense of community and connection;
  2. I mprovement (improvement) - the feeling that you are progressing towards a goal or milestone;
  3. C hoice (choice) - the ability and flexibility to make decisions autonomously;
  4. E quality (equal rights) - equal access to resources and information. Fair decisions are made, everyone is treated and supported in the same way;
  5. P redictability (predictability) - the ability to anticipate difficulties in the future. Have a consistent direction that does not change too often. A sense of certainty in relation to resources such as time and money;
  6. S ignificance (significance) - a sense of importance and status among colleagues; obtaining recognition for the work done.

If one of these basic needs is not met, a “hit or run” reaction may occur (that is, a negative perception of communication as unpleasant and even dangerous, in response to which the organism is “mobilized” - approx. Transl.) . Such resistance can disrupt communication and cause tension in teams.

Boost conversation

Some of the tools presented below can help in saving the conversation, which is gaining dangerous momentum. Their choice depends on the specific situation.

Identify basic needs

When tension arises, translate your answer into the bed of basic need, which is not satisfied. When you notice your own frustration, take a step back and ask yourself where it came from. This approach will allow you to find the root of the problem, not its symptom, which manifested itself in this particular situation. When you notice that a colleague has resistance, start by understanding what his / her needs are at risk. The skill of recognizing which of the basic needs are most important for specific people will help them feel appreciated and understood.

Ask about the context

Often problems arise in cases where everyone thinks that he knows about all the necessary contexts to make an informed decision, although in reality this is not the case at all. If you feel that no one understands your point of view, try to provide colleagues with a broader context of a specific situation. If something seems to you wrong or meaningless - ask for a larger context from your opponent. It very often happens that some context is overlooked. As a rule, all work to achieve similar goals. Keep track of the frustrations that occur, if someone disagrees with you - perhaps they do not have a complete picture or the same understanding as yours.

Ask open-ended questions

Practice attentive communication with open-ended questions that help you understand other people's points of view. Open questions require a more detailed answer than “yes” or “no”, and provide more context. Do not make accusations and do not be afraid. Aim for dialogue from a position of help.

Take the conversation to another level

If you are able to recognize the notes of resistance in your conversation or at your interlocutor, take time to reflect on the situation. You can take a position that is useful for the conversation - one in which it will advance further - if you have the best intentions, you are listening to the interlocutors and are ready to be surprised at what you do not know.

Do a retrospective

Retrospectives help “normalize” discussions involving complex topics. It is not always easy to reflect on the whole and on how it was better to act in a particular situation. However, an open discussion of what worked out well and what could have been done better, will help to understand our own and other people's patterns in communication.

Overcome the tension

When basic needs are threatened, tensions appear in teams. Such a situation may raise doubts or a desire to avoid communication, and sometimes even requires convincing answers. It is important to understand that such answers should not be personalized - this is usually only evidence of the dissatisfaction of someone’s needs.

If you are upset by potential difficulties in communication, reflect on the dynamics of the conversation and rely on your best intentions. Be open to listening and want to change your mind. Remember: you may not know everything.

This post was written under the inspiration of a Lara Hogan performance on Navigating Team Friction at AEA Seattle .

PS from translator

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