Communication and collaboration are key to project success, yet they’re often the reasons things go wrong. In a new book from GatherContent, “Collaborate: Bring people together around digital projects,” author Ellen de Vries shares plenty of practical advice that can be adapted to suit different team sizes, organizational structures and project requirements. “Collaborate” will arm digital professionals with techniques to facilitate effective collaboration across their projects.

Here’s a little preview with an excerpt from the book.

Maintain healthy communication

“We seldom say ‘That’s a bad idea’ or ‘That won’t work.’ When we disagree with someone else’s idea, we push ourselves to ask ‘What would make it better? What can I add? … When a group embraces the concept of building on the ideas of others it can unleash all sorts of creative energy.” — Tom Kelley and David Kelley, “Creative Confidence”

The secret to the momentum and flow in any successful collaboration lies in the way people communicate with one another, and the way they set up their communications. Part of the art of good communication is to become self-aware of your own style of communication.

Take a moment to reflect on the way you communicate. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.

  • How might you describe your tendencies when you communicate?
  • How do other people receive the way you communicate?
  • What would you like to improve about the way you communicate?
  • Do you plan what you are going to say while people are speaking?
  • How do you deal with confrontation or rejection?
  • Do you make eye contact with people?
  • Are you more of a yes person than a no person, or the other way around?
  • What is your sense of timing like?
  • How do you deliver difficult feedback?

If you feel comfortable doing so, it can be helpful to share these answers with your group. In this way, you can manage expectations and be aware of one another’s communication styles.

Techniques for collaborative communication abound and could fill an entire book in themselves. Here are two communication techniques you can try:

Technique 1: Develop your listening skills.

(Face to face activity)

“Real conversation is where people speak, listen, and have the potential to be changed.” — Lee Simpson, improviser, The Comedy Store, London

We often say “He or she didn’t listen” when we don’t feel we’ve been heard. Being able to listen attentively is about being non-judgmental when someone is speaking, and temporarily abandoning your plan for what you are going to say next. This is a helpful exercise that allows you to loosen your grip on the direction you want something to take.


Sit opposite a partner. You are both going to tell a story, one word at a time without pausing for too long to think about the next word. For example:

Person 1: Once
Person 2: upon
Person 1: a
Person 2: time
Person 1: high
Person 2: in
Person 1: the
Person 2: sky

Do this for five minutes, and then spend some time analyzing the results. How did you feel? Often people feel frustration that the story is not going in the direction they intended, or that it takes funny turns.

Inspired by an improvisation theater workshop with Lee Simpson.

Technique 2: Dealing with conflict without judgement, blame, or criticism

(Individual activity)

It is somewhat inevitable that you will hit challenging patches in your communication with collaborators. Approaching a conflict in this way reduces the level of antagonism between two people. The more pressure that is on, the more a deadline looms, it can be easy to fall into unhelpful patterns of communication.

To help you express what is working for you, and what is not, try this exercise to form sentences that do not blame or criticize. Try it alone first, before working with others.

  1. Choose a situation in which you felt conflicted. E.g., I was offended by my colleague, they talked over the top of me.
  2. Make an observation by saying, “I observed that (I saw, heard, felt, or noticed).” E.g., “I noticed that you started talking when I was talking.”
  3. Say how you feel about it in emotional terms “I felt… mad/ sad/ angry/ scared.” E.g., “I felt annoyed.”
  4. Now say what you need or what you value. E.g., “Because I needed to express my opinion.”
  5. Make a clear request. E.g., “Could you give me a moment to express my opinion?”

The Author

Ellen de Vries is a content strategist at Clearleft, a strategic design consultancy based in Brighton, U.K. Being a content strategist is by nature a collaborative role; on any one day she might be working with a range of people, from designers and developers to animators and AI experts. In a world where digital design practices are becoming increasingly fragmented, Ellen’s mission is to work with multi-disciplinary groups to establish a shared language that gives them a spark and propels their collaboration forward.

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