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Effective collaboration isn’t as easy as you’d hope. Harness the power of strong communication to drive improved performance.

As software engineers, we're experts at tackling complex technical challenges. But there's another critical skill that can make or break our success: communication. Effective communication is the glue that holds teams together, aligns stakeholders, and ensures that the right problems are solved in the right way. 

Yet, it's a skill that many of us struggle with, leading to misunderstandings, delays, and suboptimal solutions. 

Recognize communication breakdowns

The first step in addressing communication issues is learning to spot them. Common signs include frequent misunderstandings about requirements, silos between teams leading to duplicated work, delays due to lack of clarity, code quality issues stemming from ambiguous specifications, and low morale due to feeling out of the loop. 

As an engineer, it's crucial to be proactive in identifying these issues early. If something feels off, speak up and initiate a conversation.


Imagine you're working on a new ride-sharing app feature and notice vague requirements and a lack of cross-functional collaboration during sprint planning. Different team members make different assumptions, and the design team works on mockups without consulting engineering. Despite these red flags, you decide not to speak up, assuming clarity will come later.

Weeks later, the nearly complete feature is buggy, inconsistent, and misaligned with business objectives due to differing visions, requiring significant rework and delaying the launch. In retrospect, it's clear that speaking up early on about the ambiguous requirements and lack of cross-functional collaboration could have prevented this outcome.

Tailor your message to your audience

One of the most common pitfalls engineers face is assuming that everyone has the same technical context. In reality, we need to adapt our message based on who we're talking to. When communicating with non-technical stakeholders, focus on the "why" and the business impact. When collaborating with other engineers, be precise and specific, leveraging code snippets, API docs, and architectural diagrams. 

When interacting with cross-functional partners, strike a balance between the technical details and the user experience. The bottom line is to know your audience and tailor your communication style accordingly. By doing so, you can ensure that everyone has the information they need to understand and contribute to the project effectively.

As an engineer, expressing opinions effectively is a balancing act between advocating for what you believe in and being open to other perspectives. To express your thoughts and opinions in a way that resonates, start by seeking to understand the other person's concerns or priorities first. This will help you frame your message in a way that speaks to their interests and needs.

When expressing your opinion, focus on the "why" behind it. Explain your reasoning, not just your conclusion. This helps others understand the logic behind your perspective and makes it more compelling. Use "I" statements to share your viewpoint without putting others on the defensive. For example, say "I believe this approach will be more scalable because..." instead of "Your approach won't work because..."

Be open to other views. Express your viewpoint, but invite others to share theirs as well. Actively listen to their perspectives and be willing to change your mind if presented with new information that challenges your assumptions. Finally, pick your battles wisely. Differentiate between minor preferences and core issues, focusing your energy on the latter. By being strategic about when and how you express your opinions, you can have a greater impact and build stronger relationships with your colleagues.


When discussing a new web app feature with your less technical product manager, focus on the user benefits: "Adding this API endpoint will allow users to save and share favorite items, increasing engagement and retention."

However, when discussing the same feature with fellow engineers, dive into the technical specifics: "We'll add a new POST endpoint at /api/v1/favorites accepting a JSON payload with item_id and user_id, saving the favorite to the database, and returning a 201 status code. We'll also add a corresponding GET endpoint, update API docs, and add unit tests."

Navigate organizational communication channels

In large, complex organizations, figuring out who to talk to and when can be daunting. To navigate organizational communication channels effectively, start by understanding the organizational structure and decision-making chains. Identify key stakeholders and build relationships proactively. Next, clarify roles and responsibilities within your team to avoid confusion. When in doubt, overcommunicate by including people liberally and adjust based on feedback. Finally, leverage your manager and team lead's expertise to help navigate complexity and make connections.

The clearer you are on communication channels, the smoother your projects will run.


At a large bank, an engineer implementing a security feature first identifies key stakeholders like the chief information security officer (CISO) and compliance officer to understand requirements. The engineer clarifies team roles and responsibilities to their team, overcommunicates by including relevant parties, and leverages their manager's expertise to navigate roadblocks. This approach ensures smoother project execution in a complex organization.

Communicate in a fast-paced tech ecosystem

The rapid pace of technological change can make effective communication even more challenging. Embrace documentation by making it a habit to record decisions, architectures, and best practices using tools like Google Docs, or GitHub wikis. Establish a culture of learning by sharing knowledge, hosting brown bag sessions (informal presentations or discussions), and creating a safe space for asking questions.

Stay focused on fundamentals like clear requirements, modular design, automated testing, and incremental delivery to keep your team grounded during turbulent times. When introducing new technologies, be proactive about change management by explicitly communicating the rationale, migration plan, and learning curve. Provide training and support to help the team adapt.

By fostering continuous learning and adaptation, you can help your team stay effective in a rapidly shifting landscape.


In a fast-growing startup, the CTO introduces a new microservices architecture to handle increasing scale. To ensure effective communication during this transition, they create comprehensive documentation on the new architecture and decision-making process using Confluence. They also establish weekly meetings where engineers share learnings and ask questions in a safe environment.

Despite the rapid changes, the team stays grounded by focusing on clear requirements, modular design, and incremental delivery. The CTO proactively communicates the rationale behind the change, provides a clear migration plan, and offers training and support to help the team adapt.

Bridge the gap across teams, levels, and geographies

Modern software development often involves collaborating across different functions, seniority levels, and locations. To bridge those gaps, start by making an effort to understand the goals, priorities, and constraints of other teams. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their perspective. This empathy will help you communicate in a way that resonates with them and finds common ground. Leverage visuals like architecture diagrams and wireframes to make complex ideas more accessible to a wider audience.

When collaborating remotely, make an extra effort to build rapport by meeting over video calls, being responsive on digital channels, and being aware of cultural differences in communication norms. In today's world of remote and asynchronous work, choosing the right communication channel is critical. For complex technical discussions, lean towards higher-bandwidth channels like video calls that allow you to share visuals and pick up on non-verbal cues. For status updates or informal discussions, chat tools like Slack can be efficient, but be mindful of their limitations and escalate to a call if a thread gets unwieldy.

When it comes to important decisions and plans, reinforce verbal communication with written documentation like product requirements documents (PRDs) and architecture docs to ensure alignment. Effective communicators are intentional about matching the medium to the message and establishing clear norms around channel usage. By carefully considering the appropriate communication channels and tailoring your approach to the audience and context, you can foster effective collaboration across teams, levels, and geographies.

Continuous improvement through feedback and reflection

Even with the best intentions, communication can always be improved. Becoming a great communicator is an ongoing journey that requires continuous learning and reflection. Create regular opportunities to give and receive feedback. During retrospectives, discuss communication challenges and brainstorm solutions in a safe space for honest conversation. In 1:1 meetings, ask for specific feedback on your own communication, focusing on what's working well and where you can improve. After major milestones, conduct communication post-mortems to analyze what worked, what fell through the cracks, and how you can iterate.

To keep growing, reflect on your own communication. After difficult conversations, analyze what happened and consider what you could have done differently. Learn from communication role models by observing the techniques of skilled communicators and trying to emulate them. Experiment with new communication tools and techniques, such as using visuals to explain complex ideas, trying out different facilitation methods in meetings, or practicing new active listening skills. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and be open to new approaches.

Treat communication as a first-class skill, investing in workshops, books, and deliberate practice just as you would with technical skills. Remember, the goal isn't perfect communication, but continuous improvement. Effective communication is about being clear, empathetic, and adaptable. By making feedback and reflection a regular practice, you create space for growth. With dedication and practice, any engineer can become a strong communicator.

Technical excellence goes hand-in-hand with good communication 

Effective communication is the key to enabling collaboration and achieving shared goals. To truly have an impact, we must be able to work effectively with others – to align on vision, navigate complexity, and create solutions that meet the needs of all stakeholders.

Being intentional about how we communicate can create the conditions for our teams to do their best work, even in the face of organizational silos, technological change, geographic distance, and competing priorities.