How To Build Open Communication In Your Distributed Team

“If you don’t have that good open (face-to-face) communication operating to begin with, no amount of additional tooling will fix that,” commented Ray Whiting on my recent post about the best tools for remote retrospectives. He’s spot on!

So, how might you develop that level of good open communication, especially when you can’t meet in person? Clean Language principles can help. You might also take a look at the Collaborative Influence cycle – a way of thinking about communication based on Clean Language.

The central idea is that open communication starts not by talking at people, but by paying attention to them! When you pay attention, you learn stuff about them and what makes them tick.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere: after a while, he gets to know something.”

Wilson Mizner

Contrary to some descriptions, Clean Language doesn’t start with the Clean Language questions. It starts by paying attention, being curious about your colleagues, noticing and acknowledging them.

Having paid attention, you’re in a position to guide attention. Questions such as the Clean Language questions are especially useful for this. You can guide people’s attention in all kinds of ways – towards the stuff you want to know about; the stuff they want to know about but don’t yet know; the stuff that brings them happiness or sadness; around complex maps of stakeholders, problems or potential solutions.

“The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

Nancy Kline

As you guide their attention, again, you learn more about them… and you build the relationship at the same time. The Clean Language questions help because they incorporate the person’s own actual words: a Jedi mind trick for building trust.

And, there’s one more piece of the jigsaw. Open communication requires you to speak up truthfully and authentically, to say what you really mean as well as to pay attention and ask questions.

Caitlin Walker’s #Dramafree model, aka the Clean Feedback model, can really help here. It encourages you to separate what you actually saw and heard from the inference you drew – which can really take the heat out of some tough conversations. For the shy and retiring (like myself) that’s a huge plus!

  • What needs to happen for you to use Clean Language to increase open communication in your distributed team? Please comment below.

3 thoughts on “How To Build Open Communication In Your Distributed Team”

  1. Lesley Rickard

    I will be calling identified disabled members of my organisation to determine what steps I could take to enable them to attend face-to-face meetings. I am writing myself a script to ensure I don’t ‘put my foot in it’ and offend anyone. I shall incorporate Clean Questions into the script to enable me to understand what their needs are as opposed to what I think their needs are.

  2. I spent 18 months studying Improv. The founder of the school said one day “Some people say the first rule of improv is ‘Yes, and..’ but I say the first rule of improv is listening. You can’t ‘Yes, and…’ something you didn’t hear.”

  3. Thanks both! Tom, I remember a friend who’s done some improv mentioning the relationship between “nerves” and listening. For him, if his attention was on his internal chatter he couldn’t “yes, and” effectively. Leading Clean Language enthusiasts Marian Way and Penny Tompkins have both got very involved in clowning – partly because they really enjoyed it, partly because they could see some interesting parallels.

    Lesley, I’d be really interested to hear what results you get from your calls!

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