Submitted by wdr1 on
I have a strong software engineer on my team & I'm struggling with how to give him feedback on his communication. The core problem is he rambles. If asked a question, he immediately goes into lots & lots of details, often when a much more succinct answer is needed. (Then again, in tech, sometimes details are important to surface.)
What are you struggling with?
If he's a C (or S?), he might not be self-aware about his rambling. A couple questions up front:
You said he's a strong software engineer, so I'm reading that to mean he's also a good performer and this isn't a big deal (meaning it's perfect for feedback). If this is a correct conclusion, getting him to the point faster will yield a great improvement to the effectiveness of his communication. If it's more a part of a systemic problem of rambling and lack of clarity in overall communication it still doesn't sound like a big deal, but coaching him to improve will probably be appropriate.
edit: Where I'm going is that rambling isn't a behavior, it's a conclusion. I'm thinking that if you identify what it is that you see and hear him doing that causes you to conclude he's rambling, that'll help you clarify how to give him feedback about it.
I have one of those
I've got a team of software developers, and they are either nearly impossible to get started talking, or nearly impossible to stop once started. And sometimes both. :-)
What has worked for me with my worst offender in "rambling" is to make a game of being succinct - I ask him for the 25 word or less summary, and then the 50 word explanation. And then more if needed. It has helped keep him on track to deliver the salient points first, and expand as needed.
To answer the first responder's question: The behavior he exhibits that leads to my description of "rambling" is discussing multiple issues in a single (long) sentence, which are related possibly only by being on his assignment list. Feedback about staying on topic hasn't been effective, as he generally sees "the topic" as being what he's working on. Everything he's working on.
This "25 words or less" technique won't work for everyone -- we have a very strong relationship, and he has a very good and open sense of humor, so he sees where he can get some entertainment for himself out of this approach. (Emails with a word count above his text, for example) When he's enjoying himself changing his behavior, he's much more effective at it. And we've gotten to the point where I can give him a hand signal (holding up 2 fingers then 5 fingers) in a meeting as feedback that he should be editing his answers.
I've had a bunch of them too...
How about this: "When you don't give the bottom line up front, your audience doesn't have the context to understand your detailed explanation."
Bare bones first, then flesh it out. Without bones your message is just a massive, shapeless amoeba getting slime all over the floor.
Kung fu feedback
Kung fu, that is, use his momentum against him. After he throws a haymaker of an answer your way, ask, "did I ask you the right question?"
Then be quiet and wait, maybe you get a yes maybe a no. Think how it would play out, or how you would react in the same situation...
After a while the focus will go back on the original question. Keep going back to these moves and he'll listen instead of waiting to talk. I disagree with your assessment and declaration of the core of the issue.
Even if you don't use Kung fu feedback I would focus the feedback on behaviors around listening/not listening.
Just trying to throw a different spin on it,
Is your direct rambling or hedging?
Is your direct rambling all the time, or is it especially bad when asked for a commitment, e.g. an estimation for a completion date?
If the latter, maybe he is trying to hedge his answer by giving you all the constraints, all the assumptions, and everything that he is working on that could have an impact on his estimation. That problem would need to be approached in a different way from rambling in general.
Also, does your direct have the same cultural background (country, nationality) as you do?
Teach him BLUF - explain to
Teach him BLUF - explain to him that it's a lot more effective if he starts with the key point up front, that way if he start conversations in a different way, give him feedback ;)