Don’t Communicate through Other People



Updated August 7, 2023

Did you ever play that game called “Telephone” growing up? It’s a game where kids stand in a circle and one player whispers a sentence to the person next to them. The second player then repeats the message to the third player, and so on. When the message reaches the end, the last player announces the sentence that was whispered to them and compares it to the original sentence from the first player. Almost always, the two sentences are completely different due to each player interpreting and repeating the message with slight differences to the next person. With each iteration the message becomes less like the original.

The same thing can happen in professional settings as well, even if it’s unintended. If possible, try not to rely on someone else to pass your message along to the intended recipient, because it may not be communicated exactly as you intended it to be. Sometimes though, you may not have an option, such as if you need to convey important information up the management chain to the executive team. In general, the more people your message passes through, the higher the chance it will be misinterpreted by the receiver.

If possible, send a chat message, an email, or speak to the recipient directly rather than communicating through a chain of people. If you must pass along information through others, try to follow up with the recipient and confirm they got your message. It may seem trivial, but it’s yet another habit you can build now that could save you from headaches in the future when collaborating across teams and organizations.

Communication Isn’t Just “Saying Something”

Good communication is about being able to convey your ideas in ways that are properly received by your audience. It’s simply not enough to assume that just because you said something people will understand your ideas. You may not always be able to get your point across, which can be frustrating as a programmer when it comes to conveying technical ideas to your teammates.

Additionally, just because you tell someone something doesn’t mean it’s no longer your responsibility. As programmers, we’re prone to the bystander effect when it comes to the maintenance and operations of our systems. Individuals are less likely to take responsibility for something when there are other people present, because they assume someone else will step up to the plate and take care of what needs to be done.

don’tYou: “It looks like the build server is about to run out of disk space, which will block deployments and prevent tests from running on pull requests.”

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