How to Manage a Developer Who Has Poor Communication Skills

Gimena Aguerreberry
May 7, 2021

Good developers aren't always the best communicators, in the same way that some possess excellent communication skills but below-average coding skills. Striking that delicate balance isn't easy, but it is integral to being an efficient team member. So when you have a developer that doesn't effectively work with other teams, it can hamper the success of your entire business.

It is reasonably safe to say that software developers would all prefer to be coding rather than communicating with clients or colleagues. Coding isn't an industry known for its social capital, but that doesn't detract from the vital role effective communication plays. In this guide, we'll be taking you through some of the best ways to encourage communication from a reluctant developer.

Recognize That Communication Is a Skill

First, we need to start with your perspective. Before you can confront your developer about their poor communication, you must recognize that communication is a skill. It isn't something one is either good at or bad at or knows how to do well from birth. It requires practice, and anyone can learn to improve their communication skills over time.

An effective manager instills good principles and promotes the idea of growth in their employees. It is something to keep in mind when dealing with your developer. With the right encouragement, an individual can go from possessing average communication skills to being great.

Encourage Them to Get to Know the Team

Familiarization with the rest of the team is a vital part of solid communication. This socializing isn't just a case of developing personal relationships within your team. Communication is a two-way street.

Your developer needs to understand who is more technically savvy than others so that they can alter their language accordingly. A key component of effective communication is knowing your audience. Ensure there is a lot of time for your developer to get to know their colleagues. Group chats are especially helpful in this pursuit.

Ensure That You Have Adequately Prepared Them for Any Meeting

Many managers don't realize that they are hampering their staff's potential simply by being bad at preparation. We're not trying to blame you here, but there are steps you can take to improve communication within your team.

Have you briefed the staff before a meeting? Have you given them time to prepare their responses to specific talking points? Communication is always better when the rest of the team is ready for it.

The lack of preparation isn't necessarily laziness, either. If traditionally the previous development manager did little to create communication channels, the rest of the team might not know it's a requirement.

You can carve out a comfortable and prepared environment with something as simple as an email. Let the staff know what the itinerary is ahead of time and create an open space for any questions.

It would be best if you also emphasized the importance of preparation to your staff, primarily the developer in question. It will greatly improve communication between team members.

Emphasize the Importance of Listening

Sometimes, good developers can sabotage their communication skills simply by being bad listeners.

An excellent way to encourage listening is by frequently asking questions during meetings or when you are relaying information to your software developers. Not only does it break up the time you've been speaking, but it allows your staff to process and respond to the information you're relaying.

Assess Your Communication Channels for Potential Challenges

Virtual communication among developers on an application can be enormously helpful to overall productivity. It allows for quick correspondence and is the most convenient mode of conversation.

What's the catch? Well, it's essentially impossible to read tone accurately when working remotely. The potential for miscommunication can lead to grudges forming and grievances developing over perfectly innocuous messages.

We have all misread an email or message and believed it to be a personal attack at some point. Most of the time, the sender held no ill will at all. It's part of the reason some people pack emails with exclamation points. It makes us sound friendly!

Assess how effectively virtual communication allows you to work with other teams and address any issues you find. Simply introducing more video-based meetings could help to build rapport among the rest of the team.

Focus on Teamwork and Not the Individual

It can be very easy to blame communication failings on one team member, but sometimes the problem is more significant than that. Considering your team as a whole promotes the idea of unified working, with each member of the team embracing their strengths.

If this particular team member would prefer to be coding while another picked up the communication side of things, that could lead to more outstanding teamwork. Naturally, any individual is going to be bad at the tasks they don't enjoy. Accounting for this as a manager can lead to greater work productivity.

Confront the Developer Directly

Some staff may believe you can create a comfortable niche for yourself simply by being bad at the tasks you don't want to do. Don't like to work with other teams? Be as ineffective at communication as possible, and you won't get asked to do it again.

It's flawed logic, to say the least, but it is an actual thought process that some workers possess. By confronting the relevant staff member directly, you can better understand their motives.

Of course, they may genuinely struggle to communicate with their peers, in which case your patience is paramount.

The Bottom Line

It can be somewhat embarrassing for an adult to admit that they struggle to build a rapport with their colleagues. However, if poor communication is hindering productivity, creating a toxic atmosphere, or otherwise adversely impacting your company culture and bottom line, a manager must do something about it. Follow the tips above to approach the developer and start a meaningful dialogue with them.

"How to Manage a Developer Who Has Poor Communication Skills" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Annie Sprattl.

Categorized under people / software development.

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