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Building Stronger Creative Teams with Effective Communication

Your ability to communicate determines the quality of your life.

Your capacity to earn money, find love, make friends, and solve problems depend on how good you are at connecting with other people and resolving conflicts through conversation. 

Yet how often do we teach children how to match another person’s conversational style, recognize when they’ve been misunderstood, or bring up a problem without complaining?

Most of the time, we treat communication as if the goal is to accurately transmit information to each other.

And yes, that is the most basic function of language — but it’s not enough.

The good news is that it’s never too late to learn the more advanced communication skills that will improve all your relationships, including your relationship with potential collaborators.

In this guide, we’ll explore key communication skills essential for fostering successful collaborations, ensuring your creative partnerships are as productive and harmonious as possible. Here are some of the communication skills you’ll need if you want your collaboration to work smoothly:

Fundamentals of Communication

Say what you mean and mean what you say. This one is pretty self-explanatory — be as clear and honest as you can in all of your communications, and do it as respectfully as you can. 

Be authentic — which means being vulnerable sometimes. You don’t have to wear your heart on your sleeve or tell your collaborator your life story; just be real with them about how you’re feeling when it’s relevant to the conversation and let them get to know who you are outside of the collaboration. 

Listen to what the other person is actually saying. Don’t just perk your ears for keywords, assume you already know what they’re thinking, or interrupt them before they’ve finished their thought, even if you think you know what they’re going to say. Being a good listener takes patience, as well as curiosity about what the person means. Why are they choosing the words they’re using? Why are they telling you this now? What are they not telling you?

Reflect what you’re hearing back to the other person occasionally, to verify that you’ve understood. If you’ve just had a discussion about who should do what, summarize what you think you’ve agreed to at the end of the conversation: You’ll do X, I’ll do Y, and we’ll touch base next Tuesday. Or clarify expectations: Just to be sure I’ve got it, the outcome we’re going for is X and we want to avoid Y

Don’t assume that your partner knows what you’re thinking. Even if you’ve been friends for twenty years, neither of you is a mind-reader, and working together can introduce a whole new level of uncertainty into the relationship. It’s especially important to be clear about what you want, what you expect from the other person, and what you intend to do. 

In our early days, Sterling & Stone had to learn some hard lessons about the importance of clear communication, particularly in regard to our studio deadlines. A pattern of vagaries led to significant bottlenecks that throttled our ability to grow. Projects were delayed, collaboration suffered, and the overall momentum of our creative output slowed dramatically. 

This experience taught us that clarity in setting and communicating deadlines is not just administrative — it’s a foundation of effective collaboration. By adopting precise language and explicit deadlines, we streamlined our processes, enhanced productivity, and fostered a culture of reliability and trust within our team.

Having established the cornerstone of clear and honest communication, let’s dig into how a feedback-rich environment can become the bedrock of creative synergy. 

Creating a Feedback Rich Environment 

Creating an environment rich in constructive feedback is crucial for the growth and success of any collaboration. It involves establishing a culture where feedback is viewed not as criticism but as an invaluable part of the creative process. Here are steps to foster such an environment:

  • Establish Clear Guidelines for Feedback: Define when and how feedback should be given, ensuring it’s constructive, specific, and actionable.
  • Cultivate a Culture of Openness and Trust: Encourage collaborators to view feedback as a tool for improvement. Celebrate successes openly and treat mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Practice Active Listening: When receiving feedback, listen to understand, not to respond. This ensures that feedback is fully absorbed and considered.
  • Provide Timely Feedback: Offer feedback as close to the event as possible to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

The initiation of new storytellers into our S&S family involves a baptism by fire of sorts. A first draft often comes back looking like “the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.” This intense feedback process is not about criticism but growth. It’s essential that we see that a new storyteller can both survive the onslaught of feedback and thrive on it. This approach has been instrumental in building a team of resilient, adaptable, and constantly-evolving storytellers who view feedback not as a threat but as an invaluable tool for personal and professional development.

Try a feedback session where you and a partner exchange one piece of work, focusing solely on positive, constructive comments to understand each other’s perspectives better.

After implementing a feedback-rich environment, it’s equally important to consider how your unique communication styles influence your collaboration. By understanding and adapting to each other’s preferred modes of expression, you can enhance the effectiveness of your interactions and ensure that your ideas are conveyed and received as intended.

See you next Wednesday!