How TCP can inspire you to communicate better at work
4 min read

How TCP can inspire you to communicate better at work

You don’t need to trust me saying this, you just need to trust the foundations of the biggest innovation of the 20th century. The secrets to your communication lie in being as reliable as the TCP protocol is for the internet

If you want to become a powerful communicator, you can learn a thing or two from how the internet handles data communication in a reliable way, via the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

Your communication and responsiveness are big contributing factors in building a successful career and life. Communication is not your number one problem, it’s all of your problems. Every task, issue or challenge that comes your way, comes with a communication cost attached. You need to respond because there is usually someone waiting at the other end.

So when this ball gets dropped, it almost always means that the quality of communication dropped. And when that happens, know that you are harming your most important currency; credibility. Not skills, not tenure; your most important currency is how much people trust you.

Wouldn’t it be better to not lose any credibility because of poor communication?

What's the TCP protocol?

Nearly all the content you consume on the web is delivered using the TCP standard. Every website you open, every Slack message you receive, every Netflix movie you watch; they all are delivered to you this way. In fact, the reliability of most of your internet experience is possible because of the guarantees of the TCP protocol. Here are the top 5 guarantees that TCP offers:

  • TCP guarantees immediate acknowledgment of data.
  • TCP guarantees an ongoing connection exists. A connection is established before the transmission starts, and the connection is closed after the transmission is considered done.
  • TCP guarantees the delivery of data to the destination.
  • TCP guarantees the ordering of data.
  • TCP recognizes lost packets, and guarantees resending them.

From data packets to human words

To be a trusted person within your organization, make sure you adopt a high standard of communication. It turns out that such a standard comprises most of the features of TCP, simply adapted to human-to-human communication, instead of device-to-device communication.

You don’t need to trust me saying this, you just need to trust the foundations of the biggest innovation of the 20th century. The secrets to your communication lie in being as reliable as the TCP protocol is for the internet:

1. Data acknowledgment guarantees = Recognize other people’s needs and acknowledge every message.

It’s important for them to know that someone is doing something about their request. It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t work on it immediately. It doesn’t matter if you can answer the request directly or you need to delegate them to someone else; before doing anything, just acknowledge their request and say what your plan is.

Make sure that you acknowledge every message. The absence of an acknowledgment opens a can of assumptions. Perhaps you haven’t seen it, perhaps you saw it and are going to do something about it. Or perhaps you did see it and you just don’t care! Silence only creates doubt.

The point is that if you don’t want people to assume the wrong thing, always acknowledge their requests. This includes the last acknowledgment to finalize the conversation. Do not leave messages without any response, even a simple thumbs-up is better than silence.

2. Connection oriented = Follow up frequently.

From the moment you receive a request until the moment the request is done, you must communicate what you are doing to address the request. The absence of follow-up creates doubts about the status of the transaction, and people could start to question your reliability, which in turn will start to erode their trust in you.

Also, make sure to not close the connection too early. This is because a request is not completed when you say it’s completed. A request is completed when the party that originated the request says it is. When thinking of successfully handling a request, imagine you are drawing a circle and it is your goal to bring the tail of the circle back to the start. You are not drawing a straight line.

3. Data delivery guarantees = Deliver on your promises.

Whatever you promised you would do with a request, you need to make sure you actually do it. This point can’t be stressed enough: a failure to deliver on your promises undermines your credibility more than anything else. This applies to your day-to-day communication but also to adhering to your company policies. Policies are statements of intent for what a company considers best practices. Failing to adhere to a policy is another way of failing to deliver on your promises. In any serious organization, you can’t afford to not make good on your promises.

4. Data ordering guarantees = Clarity of communication.

It’s not enough to just follow-up on the status of the request, but you need to do it in a way that’s understandable and, ideally, very easy to follow. Take remote workplaces, for example. There are some simple things you can do to clearly communicate the state or the intent of things, such as accurate attendance status of calendar invites, accurate ticket status in your project management tool, accurate PTO setup, etc. These small bits of communication are high leverage; you do it right in one place and it serves many people.

5. Retransmission of lost packets = When in doubt, clarify; don’t assume.

The meaning of a request may not always be clear at first. Always seek to validate that both parties are “on the same page.” Paraphrasing is a very effective tool to add to your toolbelt: express the meaning of the requester using your own words. It’s useful in two ways: first, it helps achieve greater clarity by uncoverying blind spots or vague terminology; second, it helps you truly understand what the message is in your own words, which reduces the error rate if you need to pass this message to someone else.

If you are addressing the wrong request, you are a responsive but ineffective problem solver.

Closing thoughts

So, does TCP have any pitfalls? Speed is the one thing that TCP is worse at than other protocols, like UDP. However, the extra overhead to guarantee acknowledgment, delivery, sequencing and retransmission is totally worth the slight decrease in speed. The same applies to workplace communication. It’s better to be reliable and timely, than to be unreliable and fast.

Remember, communication is at the root of almost every single problem in the workplace. The secret of your success lies in consistently communicating effectively. Probably we can all learn something from how TCP communicates so reliably and effectively.