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Constructing Cooperative Relationships – Part I: Introduction & Why Communication Fails

By Kate Ellery | Principal Consultant

INSIGHTS // Articles

16 Aug 2016


INSIGHTS // Articles


By Kate Ellery

16 Aug 2016

Communication is so important to get right within a team (any team!) to ensure that the relationships you are building encourage cooperation and efficiency. Getting communication right results in a cohesive team who enjoy working together towards common understanding or goals. Getting it wrong can result in frustration and conflict, and potentially subsequent failure.

Two speech bubble icons intersecting, with the foreground speech bubble containing an ellipsis

In the software development world, Agile (in particular) requires a different mindset to that of traditional projects – we need people who are open, approachable and tolerant. Time is precious and can be wasted if you are unsure or hesitant about how best to communicate with your colleagues and stakeholders. Without collaborative relationships, you waste time and get frustrated when communication doesn’t get the response you expect and people don’t honour their commitments.

Another factor to ponder when considering our interaction with each other is technological advances over the years. Technology can pose great advantages as well as threats to the way we communicate. We’ll look at the pitfalls and recommendations under certain circumstances.

Imagine you are part of a new team who are coming together for the first time to deliver a particular software project. You all turn up on day one and meet at the allocated time, around a table such as this one:

Office chairs surrounding a table in the shape of the word 'TEAM'

Where do you start? How are you going to get to know these people to ensure you understand a common goal, and can then all work towards achieving it within your committed deadlines?

This series of articles has been broken into the following topics to look at some of the difficulties when communication is poor, and how you as individuals can improve your way of constructing cooperative relationships:

Part II: Cooperation & Communication

We’ll look at how the human brain can influence the way we communicate and the impact this can have on our relationships.

Part III: Creating a Common channel

People naturally have different tendencies and are influenced by internal and external pressures; we need to be aware of these and adapt our way of communicating with individuals based on theirs.

Part IV: Relationship Impacts

We’ll look at where we can improve in our verbal, vocal and visual communication and how these can impact on the relationships we’re building (or unconsciously destroying as the case may be!).

Part V: Building Powerful Connections & Summary

There are a number of things to look out for when you are conscious of communicating with others – both within yourself and those you are communicating with.  Then we’ll finish off with a final summary of all articles, bringing together the key messages to help you build cooperative relationships.

The full series of articles will reference a number of writers in the area of communication, where I found their findings insightful and worthy of sharing with this audience.

By the end of the series, you’ll be confident in walking into that meeting room with ‘the unknown people’ and be able to effectively communicate by constructing cooperative relationships as a cohesive team, driven toward the same goals and subsequent success.

But to start with, let’s explore the common reasons of Why Communication Fails and the impact of this happening. With our increasingly Agile projects and greater focus on faster delivery, getting communication right with our peers is essential.

I attended a presentation recently which gave reference to a rather interesting point of view around human communication. “Wiio’s Laws” (created by Professor Osmo Antero Wiio in 1978) states that:

  • Communication usually fails, except by accident
  • If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximises damages
  • There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message
  • The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds
  • In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be
  • The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance
  • The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago

Some of these comments seem quite harsh but there are several good concepts that we can take from his statements, which still hold true now and will allow us to identify where communication frequently breaks down.

Firstly, we are all people whose brains think and react differently to others. What means something to one person could be completely misinterpreted by a second person. Therefore, the message of the communication-deliverer can mean something entirely different to the respondent. This includes the order of priorities from one person to the next – what is at the top of one person’s list is not necessarily at the top of everyone else’s.

Communication is a two-way street, requiring both the speaker and the listener to be actively involved for messages to be communicated effectively – and this doesn’t matter whether it is verbal or written. If someone has their mind elsewhere, they are likely to be not listening attentively and the message will most probably miss its mark.

Delivery of communication – your tone, manner, or body language may be taken the wrong way, resulting in barriers being raised by the person who is not reading them as they were intended.  Some people also respond better to email than face-to-face conversation, as they want to think about the topic sufficiently and will get back to it when they have sufficient time. Alternatively, face-to-face communication has many positives – you can read a person’s body language and gauge if they understand the portrayed message. But there may be other factors such as location, culture and language barriers which also impact the effectiveness of communicating in person.

And finally, people are generally unprepared when they communicate with their peers. Similar to your preparation in presenting to a large group of people at a conference, for example, people need to do some groundwork when they want to get clear messages across to others in order to ensure the eventual success with their colleagues.

There are many tips that can guide individuals when they are about to collaborate with others, which we will be discussing over the course of the upcoming article series. So you’ll know what to do when you attend that meeting with all those unknown faces!

Part II – Cooperation & Communication

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