Ben Sinclair

June 29, 2023

Clear communication: the anxiety killer

I wrote this article for the Tithely Engineering blog back in 2021.

When an individual or team of engineers have clear instructions and a laser focus on the project at hand, they can move swiftly and efficiently.

In contrast, when there is a lack of clarity, especially in a remote working environment, anxiety creeps in. We find ourselves having to dig in to find answers, work out who the right person is to talk to, we waste time, and generally go over the deadline we set.

As leaders and individuals, we need to create easy pathways for clear communication to flow.

At, we have an engineering team of close to 60 people working on multiple products. Communication has had to evolve and scale. I wanted to share what I have found has worked for us thus far (and we’ve still got a long way to go).

Why I don’t like meetings

It’s easy to think a meeting solves everything.

“Let’s get everyone together on a video call and flesh this out” they exclaim!

I think there is a place for meetings but there are a lot of situations (most) where they are hopelessly useless in my opinion; especially in the engineering space that generally has tough problems to tackle.

A situation I’ve seen time and time again is where you are on a video call with 3, 4, 5, maybe 10 engineers trying to talk through a problem and come up with a solution. 10 engineers on a 1-hour meeting is not a 1-hour meeting. It’s a 10-hour meeting. And this is how those meetings generally play out…

One or two people talk too much. Another says the same thing over and over. The deep thinkers do just that and don’t say anything. The call goes off-topic multiple times and everyone walks away with little more insight on what to do to move forward. I find it hard to remember coming out of one of those meetings feeling like it was fruitful.

Add very different timezones in the mix, actually having a meeting where everyone can attend in the first place adds to the frustration.

Not all is lost with these meetings. I have seen a strong facilitator with a physical or virtual whiteboard to take notes on and keep everyone focused help greatly in these situations. But this is not the norm or a skill I see used by many. And it still doesn’t necessarily squeeze the best value out of the deeper thinkers who might need to go away and think through an answer or solution.

Why I feel written form is a better starting point for communication

I’m a big fan of writing up whatever it is that needs to be discussed.

Those deep thinkers I spoke about earlier, they do really well in this space. Trying to come up with a good answer on the spot on a video call is hard. Having the time to think through what it is they are wanting to communicate and then writing it up is a helpful way to not only communicate better but to think through what they’re trying to get across concisely.

For this form of communication to work well, be ok waiting for an answer. Don’t put yourself in a place where you need the answer right away. Think far enough ahead where asynchronous communication is the norm. It’ll pay dividends long term.

Don’t just write words, think about how those words read

The biggest mistake people do when writing things up is to not think about the end reader. If you create a wall of text, people are going to skim read or even just ignore it. The value is lost quickly and it gets added to the “too hard” basket.

Formatting your written text in a way that is conducive to people reading and understanding what you have to say is almost as important as what you write.

Here’s an example of a very detailed piece that was made easier to read with certain formatting:

Use headings to break up the post and allow for easy high-level understanding. Use paragraphs to split out thoughts. Use smaller headings to break up big chunks of content. Use screenshots to help those who are more visual.

Write it up and then read through it once or twice. Put on the hat of someone reading what you’ve communicated and make tweaks so it’s easy to follow. Expect a better response from your readers.

When I do like meetings

A meeting to clarify points discussed in a written piece is a great next step. These meetings are generally way more fruitful due to thoughts being more aligned in the written form.

Be sure to update the original written message with any decisions/clarity that came from the meeting.

And not all meetings are bad. There are plenty of other meetings I love and think are valuable! 1-to-1 meetings between engineers building relationships, maybe a bit of pair programming. Stand-up meetings are a great way to keep in sync and jump on items quickly. Social gatherings where maybe you play a game or gather with people who are reading the same book as you.

It’s always good from time to time to reflect on the meetings you have and as yourself “is this meeting valuable?”

How we write things up at

We use Basecamp.

  • We break departments, teams, and products into their own team or project.
  • We make use of the Message Board to discuss topics.
  • Docs & Files is used to categorize Pitches that we write.

There are other great tools out there so Basecamp is not the only answer. It’s simple in many ways but is just enough to keep the communications flowing nicely.

Don’t use a chat tool like Slack as it’s not built for this long-form type of communication. Besides, it is more distracting than a colleague sitting next to you asking for help every 10 minutes.

In conclusion

Clear communication is something you need to be intentional about. It’s something you might even need to fight for. It doesn’t just happen unless an individual or a group of people stand up and create a pathway.

What can you do to get better at communicating in your position as well as help your team or department?

About Ben Sinclair

Hey! I'm Ben. I’m a Christian (a child of God), husband, father, son, friend and I work at I'm passionate about Jesus, finance and technology. These writings are for me, however, maybe they’ll be interesting to others. Thanks for stopping by!