How to make sure you are heard

Dynamics in startups have their unique set of challenges, one of which is managing the many communication styles as everyone learns to work together. With teams adapting to changing conditions, understanding and prioritizing individual communication styles become critical for ensuring execution. Too many times I've see people share ideas and processes for weeks, sometimes even months, and then another person communicates the same thing in a different way and the target audience engages. It can be extremely frustrating for the first person, but is evidence that if you aren't communicating the way that your stakeholders need, they may not be hearing you.

Research shows that effective communication boosts team performance by 25% in high-diversity teams1. On the other hand, miscommunication results in frustration, wasted time, and damaged team relationships. At startups, things move fast. If you prioritize finding your colleagues' communication styles you'll set yourself up for less frustration when things get stressful.

Here's how:

Everyone communicates differently. This goes beyond their talking style and extends to how they understand information. It's not uncommon that the same information shared differently gets different reactions. So, for stakeholders and colleagues that are critical to your work streams, pay attention to:

  • How they share information. Watch how they share - do they often draw diagrams to communicate their ideas? Do they write documents? Do they record videos? How they share information can be indicative of how they process it.
  • How they react information is shared with them. Pay attention to their engagement when you and others communicate to them. You may notice that they ask more questions when presented information in a slide deck, you may notice that they like to verbally work through ideas, you may notice they prefer docs and will readily engage via comments, etc.

Because everyone is different, you may have important stakeholders that have different styles. You want to be sure you are getting your ideas through to each of them, so it can be helpful to prepare your information in a few different formats. For example, maybe you can make a diagram or flowchart, embed it in a document which describes it further, then record a Loom talking through it. This will hopefully reach stakeholders who digest information in a few different ways. It can take more time, but it will likely further solidify your thinking as you work through it, and you can likely find tools to help you translate the information between different formats.

Still seek feedback!

Encourage and seek out feedback to understand how well your communication style works with others. This can help you make necessary adjustments to enhance clarity and understanding. You may have to be insistent here, sometimes people won't realize that a communication style is what's in between your ideas and their understanding. Just patiently ask, or proactively try another format if you're not getting the engagement you'd expect.

Review and Refine

Understanding and implementing these tips could make a significant difference in how your ideas are received. As per a survey carried out by Salesforce, 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the reason for workplace failures (Salesforce, 2012). This goes to show the direct impact effective communication has on a team's performance. Prioritizing good communication can contribute to a happier workplace environment, better productivity, and improved team collaboration.

To thrive in the workplace, and especially in startups, make sure you're aware of your colleagues' communication styles. You will be surprised at how much of a difference this can make in your ideas being communicated and implemented.

Still not getting through to your team? We can help! It can be especially challenging for engineering teams because concepts are technical. We believe bridging the gap between engineering teams and non-technical teams is imperative for the business to grow and succeed.


[1] "Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse". HBR 2017.