That’s how you get ants–communication, it’s not all talk!

Hand holding mobile phone and take a photo Natural ant on blurred background with sunlight.

When we speak to one another, we do so intending to convey information, just not always the information we intend.

That’s right, sometimes the message we send isn’t about the words we say. We all know about how a large percentage of communication is contained in non-verbal signals. That’s what makes phone calls so much harder than in-person conversation. What can seem effortless in person feels awkward on the phone.

And email is worse. It is so easy to misconstrue a friend or colleague in text: email, texting, IMs. Not only is there no body language, but there also aren’t even voice cues. We can’t tell if they are being sarcastic or sincere.

When we communicate, we miscommunicate.

Actions speak louder

Another way we communicate is through our actions. A colleague can say the words that they agree with your project, but their actions may indicate opposition, confusion or ambivalence. If you were asked about how they really feel, you would likely answer in accordance with their actions, not with their words.

The supremacy of action over words permeates any organization.

Think about your worst job experiences. Did HR or management say the right words, but behave in a way that undermined the supposed meaning or intent?

And your best work experiences? When your boss said they were trying to help you succeed and their actions demonstrated that they were trying to help you succeed. Bliss.

Act one

When you join a new company (or a new team), what are the first things you notice?

Their meeting schedule? How they communicate (IM, DM, phone, reply all on emails)? Do they joke around with each other or are they deadly serious? Do meetings have a detailed agenda or just a general-purpose?

Whether the team intends it or not, these signals influence how you will do your work.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by how our work is influenced by previous work done by others (or previous self).

The term for this is sematectonic communication.

Sematectonic communication

The most obvious example of being influenced by previous work might be in the behavior of ants.

Did you ever wonder how ants build their elaborate structures? Blueprints? Governance committees? Project managers? Not so much.

Instead, an ant comes along and observes the work other ants have been doing. Then it piles its bit of mud to continue the structure. You might not think this would result in anything usable or impressive, but some ant structures are amazing. Seriously, look at some pictures on the internet.

Wow, right? But, you might be saying, this is all fine for ants, but what about my company?

Each day, we place our little bit of mud to continue building the emergent structure of our business. Often without conscious awareness, we follow the actions of our previous selves, of our co-workers. But, we rarely consider the signals that we are sending to our future selves or future colleagues.

If we want things to change and expect our business to grow, we have to be more thoughtful about where we place our little ball of mud.

What your platform communicates

Just like any team communicates its true values and norms to a newcomer, your company communicates its true values and vibe to customers, partners, and developers because your business itself is a platform.

Whether or not you provide self-service, the ease of your documentation or tutorials, the consumability of your API communicates the essence of your platform and by extension your business, stronger than any mission statement. Stronger than any documentation. Your platform, your API, indicates to everyone how easy you will be to do business with, how interested you truly are in joint success.

Back to the present

We guide future behavior through our current actions. It’s a kind of time travel through influence. It’s easy to complain that others aren’t working the way we want them to, but what did we communicate to them about how they should work?

In this light, your company’s API strategy (a visible interface to the world), your business as a platform, even your meeting culture speaks louder than words. These aren’t items to cross off a checklist, they are the critical factors in determining the kind of work that will get done. Which kind of partners will you attract? Which kinds of employees?

If you are interested in having a further conversation on this deep topic, feel free to reach out to the Catalysts at Axway.

Start a conversation with a Catalyst today!

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