Home > Articles > Software Development & Management > Agile

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Collaborative Conversations

If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound? If something is communicated and nobody hears it or reads it, was it actually communicated? Philosophy aside, from this point forward, assume that at least two parties are required for any form of communication to exist.

The next chapter delves more deeply into collaboration. For now, however, the focus is on collaboration that occurs during a conversation. In oral communication, when speakers and listeners come together, there are increasingly rich levels of collaboration.

When speakers and listeners are brought together, there must be a match between speaking strategy and listening strategy for a productive interaction to occur. When a mismatch occurs between the level of collaboration desired by speaker and listeners, speakers and listeners tend to get frustrated.

In any given combination of speaker/listeners, the maturity of collaborative communication often aligns with one of the four levels depicted in Figure 4.6:

  • Level 1: Speech: A speaker is preaching and/or motivating the listeners, who are often a mixture of passive and active listeners.
  • Level 2: Facilitated Discussion: The speaker takes on more of a facilitation role, engaging listeners to contribute to the topic being discussed.
  • Level 3: Conversation: At this level, the speaker and listeners engage in a dialogue, where speaker/listener roles are swapped continuously. The originating speaker role may set the tone and direction, after which others involved in the conversation steer its direction.
  • Level 4: Collaborative Interaction: At level 4, complete collaboration occurs between members of the group. The speaker/listener roles swap out frequently and swiftly. Members of the group work together toward a common goal (solving a problem, discussing an issue, resolving a need, and so on). At this level, the group takes on its own identity.
Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 Collaborative communication levels

Collaborative interaction is a desirable place for a project team to get to and remain at. When a project team reaches this level, members tend to work together to fulfill each other's communication needs. At this level, communication is leveraged as a tool to advance the progress of a project. When a communication block is reached, other members of the team may step in to ensure that progress is continued.

In improvisational theater, a group of performers work together to create a cohesive (and usually humorous) entertainment piece without a script. Television shows such as Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Curb Your Enthusiasm have showcased improvisational performers. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, a rough sketch of a story idea is presented to the actors, who create the story together in front of rolling cameras rather than reading lines from a script. The pressure of this real-time collaboration draws the best possible work out of each contributor. On Whose Line Is It Anyway? the performers have the added pressure of creating entertaining content in front of a live audience.

One of the greatest challenges of "improv" (as this is commonly called), is the live collaboration that occurs between multiple performers. All members of an improv team know how to capitalize on each other's strengths and overcome each other's weaknesses. A goal of an improv troupe is to keep communication flowing with no dead air.

Popular "improv" practices can help foster better communication on teams, such as the following:

  • Keep it flowing: Improv masters are skillful at keeping communication flowing, and team members all work together to make the "scene" a success. If one person dominates at the expense of others, the group fails. If one person falters, others will jump in to keep things going.
  • Say "Yes, and...": By responding to a teammate's contribution with "Yes, and..." you are make a commitment to adding to what has already been offered. This approach maintains cohesion by committing to build upon what was started. It also shifts the burden of enhancing the overall contribution.


    I believe customers will want a user interface that is attractive and is easy to use.


    Yes, and...

    After the "and," Fred adds new information. The person who says, "Yes, and..." is expected to contribute new content, not just restate or transform what was already said.


    Yes, and the screen should be clean with few widgets, options, and displayed content.


    Yes, and the system should be fast, too. New windows should pop up within just a second or two from the time they are requested.


    Yes, and... [Continues until the group runs out of steam.]

  • Avoid blocking: Blocking is the opposite of "Yes, and..." Expressing a negative reaction to the previous contribution can stop the conversation flow dead in its tracks. It may be simply saying, "No," or it could be ignoring the conversation and shifting to a completely different subject. A high D (dominator) is likely to block when in disagreement with an idea that is being cultivated.


    I believe customers will want a user interface that is attractive and easy to use.


    No, actually customers will want a feature-rich application with a lot of information and user-configurable capabilities.



    I'm not that concerned about the user interface; it's the speed of the application that I'm worried about.

  • Avoid questions: Asking questions could be perceived as a "punt," which shifts the burden to someone else. This is a common tactic of a high C (critical thinker), who may believe that critical questions are contributing to the team. Rather, they demonstrate that the questioner doesn't want to play the game and is quick to shift the "hot potato" to someone else.


    I believe customers will want a user interface that is attractive and is easy to use.


    Are you familiar with the corporate user interface style guide and the standard UI templates?



    How do you define "easy to use?"

    Notice how Derek's questions push the burden immediately back to Mary. This places responsibility on Mary to keep the conversation flowing, and Derek plays a minor role in the overall results of the group, even though Derek probably feels that his inquisitive style is helping.

  • Include other team members: Help draw in other team members who are not contributing by providing information they can build on. This requires an awareness of skills and interests of those team members. Notice the collaborative helpful tone of Mary and David's exchange:


    I believe customers will want a user interface that is attractive and is easy to use. David, I remember that the user interfaces you developed on other projects were well accepted by your users. How can we achieve the same success on this project?


    Well, I should conduct a focus group with key target users. Also Derek is a pro at screen layouts. We'll want to get him involved.

  • Be Socratic: The great teacher and philosopher Socrates devised a teaching technique that broke from the conventions of his time. Rather than blurt knowledge, he posed a series of questions to his students. This allowed the students to navigate their own path of understanding and learning. These questions allow a speaker to clarify and qualify what is being said.

    Note that asking questions is a "no no" in the improv world because it is seen as deflecting involvement. A Socratic series of questions, however, encourages active involvement by the questioner. As a facilitation technique, it can keep people on task and help them avoid getting off track from the goals of the communication session. With this technique, the facilitator is not questioning what is being said. Rather, the facilitator is asking questions to encourage the speaker to elaborate, enhance, and clarify what is being said.

    Examples of helpful Socratic questions:

    • What makes you say that?
    • Can you describe an example of what you're talking about?
    • How does this align with what others have been saying?
    • How does this differ from what others have been saying?
    • Are there other ways to ask what you are asking?

    And a few metaquestions (questions about the question itself):

    • Did the way you worded the question get the response you expected?
    • Is that a good question to be asking?
    • Why is what you are saying important to the project?
  • Be even more Socratic: Another technique often attributed to Socrates is to feign ignorance—to pretend to have no knowledge of something you are fully knowledgeable about. Listen in on the following conversation:


    Would you like me to explain the steps involved in underwriting an insurance policy?


    [Having spent the past 20 years as an insurance underwriter and holding various certifications as a certified underwriter, bites her tongue, feigns curiosity and interest, and says...] Yes, please tell us about it.

Feigning ignorance can be difficult for those who are knowledgeable on a subject. Their egos entice them to let everyone know how smart they are. By swallowing pride and feigning ignorance, though, there is a great opportunity to augment their knowledge with another's perspective.

In the preceding scenario, if Jane had not allowed Fred to continue, she might have lost the opportunity to either validate what she knows or add to her knowledge of the subject.

The Power of Shutting Up

When used properly, silence can be a powerful communication tool. Proper use of silence includes appropriate choice of supporting eye contact and other body language.

In this scenario, Fred is undecided about whether to include a certain feature in the scope of the system. Jane (who is likely a high D and/or a high I) feels that it's necessary to say something:


I can't quite decide whether that feature is important and should be included in the scope of the system.


I think it's quite important. I'd include it if I were you.


Okay, what can I do to help you decide?


When will you decide?

If instead Jane had said nothing, she could have urged Fred to come to a decision. If Jane looked Fred in the eyes and leaned forward, she would silently be saying, "Take your time, Fred, I'll wait for you to think about it and come to a decision."

If Fred happens to be a high C, he is unlikely to make a snap decision and will want time to think about the implications of his decision before announcing it. By exercising restraint and using silence with appropriate body language, Jane allowed Fred to make a more informed, well-thought-out decision.

Using silence as a tool can be difficult for high D's and high I's. Silence can drive these people nutty, and they'll likely try to fill it with sound.

Communication Latency

In 1860, a message crossed the United States from coast to coast in ten days via Pony Express. Today, it's possible for an email message to make the same journey in less than a second.

This doesn't mean, however, that email is the definitive communication speed test benchmark. Email has its place but does not guarantee efficiency or speed. You probably have messages in your email inbox from more than ten days ago that were overlooked or not read. If, however, someone rode up alongside you on a horse and handed you a letter that had been in transit for the past ten days, there's a good chance that you'd drop whatever you're doing to read it.

Communication latency refers to the delay that occurs from the time something is communicated until the time it is received and processed. A common goal of an agile project is to reduce communication latency. Real-time interactions can keep a project moving forward, whereas delays can have a compounding detrimental impact to the project. Figure 4.7 depicts commonly used communication tactics, shown with increasing amounts of latency (or delay) from when the sender sends the message and the recipient receives the message.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Increasing communication latency

As an example, receiving the message does not mean that it arrived in the recipient's inbox. The communication transaction is complete when the recipient reads and understands what was communicated. It's ironic that some of the more popular modern tactics actually introduce the most latency.

The more time that passes from the sending of information and the processing of that information, the greater the risk the information will be misunderstood, ignored, or misused. Notably, the context that was in existence at the time something is communicated will likely have changed as more time passes. This causes information to be processed out of context, which can lead to misinterpretation.

Ideally, all project communication would occur live and in real time. Behaviorally, real-time conversations are fun and desirable for a high I (influencer); at the same time they can be exhausting and undesirable to a high C (critical thinker). When Mary asks Derek to do some research on a certain business requirement and to let her know what he finds out, his follow-up actions will depend on his behavioral tendencies.

Because Derek is a high DI, he may likely do a cursory job of researching (or try to delegate it) and will report what he learns back to Mary in person. Derek is likely to report back to Mary within hours so he can get the to-do item off his list.

When Derek tells Mary what he has learned, he will consider his task complete. If Mary were to ask Derek to write up what he discussed, Derek is likely to be frustrated or annoyed.

If Mary had asked Carl instead, she would have experienced a different response because Carl is a high C. Carl is likely to take his time doing a thorough job of researching the problem. When he has researched to his satisfaction, he will likely write up the information and send it to Mary in an email message. It's highly unlikely that Carl will call Mary or see her in person to discuss what he learned. After Carl clicked "send" he considered his task complete. If the email server crashed and the message never made it to Mary, Carl would likely have never pursued making sure Mary received and understood the information.

The contrast between Derek's and Carl's behavior is important. Carl probably did a much more thorough and accurate job of addressing Mary's needs. However, the delay in getting the information to Mary could have potentially caused other delays. Additionally, if Mary never received (or noticed) the reply, Carl's work was pointless.

On the other hand, Derek handled the request in a timely manner, but the quality of his research was probably much poorer than what Carl produced.

In either case, it's productive for all team members to maintain awareness of communication latency and to work to minimize delays in communication threads.

We the People...

Here's a quick grammar lesson:

  • First-person singular: "I..."
  • Second-person singular: "You..." Third-person singular: "He/she..."
  • First-person plural: "We..." Second-person plural: "You..."
  • Third-person plural: "They..."

Regardless of your intent, when you choose to speak in first-person versus third-person, and singular versus plural, others' perception of you will likely be affected by what they hear. Generally:

  • Those who use first-person singular can be perceived as arrogant and boring. Others' eyes may glaze over as you continually say, "I this," and "I that." That doesn't mean you mustn't ever talk about yourself. However, it's a good idea to monitor your "me" speak and be cognoscente of a lack of empathy for your listeners.
  • Those who use second-person can be perceived as nagging or preaching. Listeners tend to get defensive and raise their guard when they hear, "You this," and "You that." The "You" speaker may also be seen as arrogant, which is often a turn off to listeners.
  • Those who frequently speak in the third-person may be viewed as gossips. When you choose to talk about others, be aware that any hint of judgment or criticism could cause you to be labeled as a critic and a gossip. People may be less inclined to be open with you to avoid being judged or criticized by you.
  • The use of first-person plural is a great way to get collective buy-in for whatever you have to say. When you say "we," others see you as part of the team, a member of the family, someone who has the same skin in the game that they do. Not only can this tactic help you avoid alienation, it can encourage others to be more open with you.
  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020