Communications Takeaways from DevFestMN 2019

February 14, 2019

As an Interactive Project Manager with a limited understanding of actual coding, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection of Team Communication sessions this year at DevFestMN 2019!

The key takeaway from DevFestMN was to use clear intent to limit room for interpretation. This can be incredibly difficult, especially when communicating across disciplines, cultures, and channels. The most interesting insight into this struggle came up in the Keynote speech:

“Our brains are wired to assume the worst without knowing intent up front. We have to go against our personal nature and work to overcome this on a personal level in order to improve communications.” (paraphrased)

To get a better grasp on how exactly to do this, here are my notes from each session at DevFestMN!

Talk to Me Right

Annyce Davis, an Android Google Developer Expert, shared 12 Tips to help you Talk “Right” to your team at DevFestMN. She defined “Right” as “each interaction communicates intent for the desired goal.”

  1. Socialize and get to know your teammates on a non-working level.
  2. Have clear guidelines. Set standards for how to develop, test, and deploy code. Use flow charts to help with visualization.
  3. Use automation to reduce conflict. Having standard responses to common issues can eliminate room for emotional interpretations.
  4. Use templates to ensure steps are not skipped and everyone uses the same format when documenting or giving feedback.
  5. Be explicit. Say what you mean and leave no room for interpretation. Provide definition for all unclear terms, set expectations for time constraints, and confirm understanding (repeat what was heard).
  6. Ask LOTS of questions. Confirm any assumptions you’re making during a conversation. Get to know the motivation behind decisions and the end goal for tasks.
  7. Proofread before sending! Be careful to avoid “I” language, consider the circumstance the recipient of your message might be in, and show appreciation.
  8. Give meetings POWER (Purpose, Outcomes, What’s in it for me, Engagement, Roles and responsibilities). Agendas are key.
  9. Use data for objectivity. Validate your comments and concerns with data and observations.
  10. Simplify your language. Be clear, be concise, use simple terms, and avoid using local idioms or cultural references (especially with remote and multi-cultural teams).
  11. Use visuals to provide context. Adding images like screenshots, or charts and graphs instead of lists will help get your point across more clearly.
  12. Learn about others. Adjust your communication style to meet the needs of different teammates. Recommended Reading: The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.

How Non-Violent Communication Can Help Keep the Peace on Your Team

Casie Siekman, a Front-End Developer at Solutions Design Group, shared her learnings at DevFestMN from two inspiring books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD and Deepak Chopra.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a team are:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

These dysfunctions are not isolated. They each feed into the others, so that when one is lacking the entire chain suffers. Trust leads to productive conflict. Conflict leads to commitment to a solution. Commitment leads to accountability, and accountability leads to results.

The 4 steps for Nonviolent Communication are:

  • Observe THEN evaluate: Remove judgement and personal preferences from your observations in order to fully take-in all the details, THEN draw conclusions objectively.
  • Identify THEN express feelings: Without first identifying your emotion, it can’t be properly expressed. Feelings are not thoughts. “I feel like I was taken advantage of” is not a feeling; it’s a thought. “I feel frustrated” is an emotion that is entirely personal, and once identified can foster communication about the source. Feelings never feel “like” something else.
  • Identify the stimulus THEN take responsibility for the feeling: Once a feeling has been identified, trace that feeling back to the origin. All feelings are stimulated by an event. The event might not be the “cause” of a feeling, however. The stimulus could bring up a deeply rooted emotion with an entirely different cause than the stimulus itself.
  • Identify the solution THEN request what will enrich your life: Requesting a change without understanding the need for change will only serve as a bandaid. Once you fully understand your feeling and identify its source, you can find a proper solution. The important step is then to actually make a request that will get you to the solution.

These steps will help YOU use Nonviolent Communication with your team. But, what do you do when someone else on your team is communicating violently? Follow the same steps, knowing that the solution will likely boil down to an open, honest, conversation with the teammate in question, and a request them for change. They may not realize they are communicating violently, and likely have their own stimulus leading to the behavior. They too might want change, but may not know how to get there.


If you’re a marketing professional looking for a development partner who prioritizes clear, honest, and collaborative communication at all stages of your digital project, fjorge is here to help. We are an agency of developers with an eye for design and talent in UX. We are ready to jump in at any level of your project lifecycle!

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