sinaptia waves

Communication matters

Fernando Martínez
Feb 22nd, 2023

When a client gives us a requirement, it always comes with an expectation attached. Usually, it is an implicit expectation that involves details about how complex the job is, how we’re going to do it, how long it’s going to take, what problems may surface, and how will the result look.

As developers, we need to be conscious that several barriers exist between us and our clients: the barrier of remoteness (we rarely are in the same physical space), the barrier of language (our native language is Spanish while most of our clients are native English speakers), the barrier of culture and the barrier of timezones.

Even though the responsibility of breaking down these barriers belongs to both parties, we must be the ones who contribute to a greater extent to do so, because the result of our work is directly impacted by them.

The only visibility our clients have of our work is one that we give explicitly.

We need to work hard to make the implicit, explicit.

On the other person’s shoes

Let’s imagine that we are the clients, and we need something fixed. Let’s say a pair of shoes. Our favorites. We need them as soon as possible because we’ve got a party next weekend and we must wear our shoes (parties are extremely uncomfortable in other people’s shoes).

So, we asked a team of shoemakers we found on the internet, highly recommended on social media, and high-quality shoe-fixing portfolio, to fix them:

Hi team! need this pair of shoes fixed for next weekend. They have some sole problems, a couple of holes in the right foot, shoe laces are bad on the tips, and, as I always carry a huge gaming laptop on my left shoulder, they have different heights, so I always end up 15 degrees tilted to the left in every picture. Can you tell me if you can fix them?”

They promptly answered:

Of course, just bring them in!

We are so happy! These guys look very professional and there seem to be no issues with the deadline! So we sent the pair of shoes to the workshop that day and we received the notification that they were received a couple of hours later. Cool!

A couple of days go by, the weekend is getting closer, we are wondering if everything is going well with the shoes, so we send a message:

Hi there, how is it going with the shoes? already fixed?

And they answer:

We are still working on them. Not finished yet.

Nice, everything seems to be on track. So we patiently wait. One day, two days, and then again, no news. So we sent another message:

Hi there, I was expecting news yesterday. How’s everything going? are my shoes ready?

And they answer:

Hi! Yeah, no… We are still working on them. We’ll have them for tomorrow.

Let’s pause the story a little bit and ask ourselves:

How many “I’m still working on it. Will finish tomorrow.” do we need to start feeling that we are being scammed? Or that the other person is incompetent? Or worse, that is making fun of us?

Nice way to build client relationships, right?

Now, back to the story…

We thought the fixes were fairly simple: replacing the soles, patching up a couple of holes, and getting new laces. How hard that could that be?

At this point, we start thinking bad stuff, like “They were probably doing nothing the first few days”, or “Perhaps they have too much work and our shoes are in the back of a long queue” or “Perhaps they are not as good as they say and are very slow”, or “perhaps they lost them. Oh no…”.

We start feeling anxious, even a little rage creeping up in the bottom. We feel we are already regretting our decision to work with them.

So, the next day, we don’t wait for the work day to finish and we are not in a very good mood either. We call them directly:

Hello. My shoes were to be ready today. I want them sent to me as soon as possible. I need them for a party tomorrow.

The answer:

Yeah, sorry, we are still working on them.

Anxiety, wistfully, starts retreating to make some more room for Rage. Just in case…

And they finish:

…but we are sending you a temporary replacement so you don’t have to go bare feet to that party of yours.

💥💥💥 rage outburst 💥💥💥

We hang up sending a waterfall of insults down the line. Thankfully we weren’t personally in the workshop otherwise everybody would be drowning and shoes would be floating down the streets in an ocean of profanities.

We completely regret our decision to confide our precious shoes to them and start thinking of hiring a lawyer to sue them.

The after party

Next Monday, we receive our shoes: Shiny packaging, neatly wrapped in a protective layer. They look brand new. Superlative Job. And at the bottom of the box, a letter from the shoemaker:

Hello dear customer,

I feel I owe you an explanation for what happened. The job was more complex than we expected, this model is very old and we realized we had run out of soles so we had to handcraft one for the left foot. After replacing it, we noticed that as it was brand new, it was a little higher than the right one. So for you to not be tilted 15 degrees to the other side in the pictures, we also had to make one right foot by hand. Something similar happened with the laces: our supplier was out of stock so we had to wait 3 days for the replacements.

Last but not least, one of the holes, though small, was unpatchable because it was too near the seams. It would have been faster to patch it up, but it would have looked ugly and not very neat. So we had to replace the whole piece. As the piece was brand new, it had a color difference from the rest of the shoe, so we had to dye both shoes accordingly.

We are very sorry for the delays and that you had to go barefoot to your party.

The bill is on the house.


The Shoe Maker

Communication matters

The previous example is fiction, but these situations are very frequent in our trade. That kind of implicit communication is full of problems and generates friction, pain and unhealthy relationships.

The shoemakers were indeed a great team, and the final product was excellent, they worked hard and solved a lot of unexpected problems in a few days. But they communicated poorly, missed details, and a lot of implicit not said things.

Be verbose, overcommunicate

Don’t spare your clients the details. Things we don’t communicate explicitly leave open spaces for the other person to fill up with their expectations, ideas, and biases.

Lack of details undermines trust

The basis of our healthy relationships with our clients is trust. The only way we have to build it is through effective and honest communication. This won’t happen if you are not explicit and give them a full description of the problems you are facing and how you plan to solve them.

Implicit, untold information results in unmet expectations

Replacing a shoelace might not be as easy as it sounds. Explicit and detailed updates give the clients a chance to adjust and recalibrate their expectations and help them refactor the image of the problem in their heads.

Technical excellence is worthless if communication isn’t effective

It doesn’t matter if the final product was perfect or if the experience has already been spoiled. That client won’t recommend you anymore, or if they do, they’ll do it with a lot of warnings and new clients will come with fear and a defensive stance, which is a bad place to start a relationship.

Brand new shoes

Daily meetings, standups, or status updates are often regarded as monotonous, repetitive, and not very valuable. But for us, they are the most powerful and simple tool we have to deactivate all the problems we saw above and the main way we use to build successful and enjoyable relationships with our clients.

Do you want to know how we do them? Stay tuned!