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We recently hired a senior developer however he has issues communicating. There is a bit of a language barrier but even when spoken to in his own language he is difficult to communicate with. I am never sure if he has understood what he has been told or asked and he does not answer questions in details but need to be asked for details. Any recommendations?

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    Can you share more details? He doesn't talk to the other team members, others don't understand what he is saying, there is a cultural difference, or he wants to do something different than you hired him for? – Zsolt Oct 1 '15 at 14:57
  • I think that really depends on how bad the situation is. We once had a situation where the problem became that serious that we could not continue working with the developer. Maybe it is not really a communication, but lack of knowledge in certain areas of your new developer. That is nothing bad as long as he or she is willing to learn new things. – Matthias Jost Oct 1 '15 at 15:43
  • He is a senior dev with over 10 years of experience, I think he is just one of those people who feel awkward speaking with others. The cultures are very similar though the language is different but even when spoken to in his own language I don't sense that he is confident in what he is being asked or ready to speak up when he doesn't understand or has questions. – L. Young Oct 1 '15 at 15:58
  • What are the project management implications of this issue? Is this a workplace.SE question or a project management issue? – Mark C. Wallace Oct 1 '15 at 19:49
  • Project management, Ii'm trying to assess his skills and make sure he understands the work that is expected of him. – L. Young Oct 2 '15 at 9:08
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The first thing here is, Do you want to keep that developer or not?.

If you think this is only the communication problem than it can be worked upon (considering he is willing to contribute too to this exercise). But, if you think there are other issues too like Attitude issue, not willing to improve and learn, he is not technically that much sound as expected from his role and position, then you should start looking for other developer, because if he don't want to improve and learn then you may not be able to do anything and all your efforts will go in vain.

Now, coming back to the point considering he is technically sound, willing to improve and Communication is the only problem. Then this can be sorted out (with a little babysitting and micro management). Sometimes, as a part of team management we need to groom the team member and make him comfortable with the Team, Working culture, Processes and day-to-day activities. Possibly he is quite an introvert and has a lot of hesitation (which is normally not expected from people of his role and experience, but exceptions are always there).

  • First tell him what he has to do i.e. about his tasks and then have reverse KT from him at that moment itself (start with his own language if other are comfortable too). Ask him to tell what he has been told to do. Brain storm him. The whole idea is to make him speak and feel comfortable
  • Then, ask him to drop a mail as soon as he reaches his seat after the discussion, so that you too can re-verify what he is going to do. Sometimes, people are not good at Oral communication but they are fine with written one (as they don't have to face the person and this make them less hesitate)
  • Have informal talks with him (this is what I use to do with new members). I take them to tea/coffee breaks where I spent 10-15 mins. with him/her along with other members and have informal talks like about his last company, his earlier role etc. and then adding some humor to the content. This all makes them feel good and increases their comfortable level (but no talks about the work in initial phase)
  • Organize some semi-formal sessions or team meetings like new technology sessions, after release meetings, one-to-one issue discussion for carrier path etc. Monthly review is the thing we use to have for discussing the work and future scope and any issue (personal or official) being faced by the team member. It happens that sometimes they are not able to perform because of some other problem but you might be able to advise him.

Gradually, you will see improvement in both his communication and his work, but don't expect anything in 1 day/week. But if you are really running out of time (as per your release schedule), see other issues too with him and don't have any time to put in this exercise then opt for the other option.

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Communication is a two way street. Recognize that the problem may not just be on his end.

You have 2 legitimate concerns that need to be addressed:

1) You are not sure if he is understanding what you are trying to convey

and

2) You are having trouble understanding what he is trying to convey.

Communication issues are rarely resolved overnight. Informal coaching is usually the way to go. It's important you understand the individual's communication style and personality. Myers Briggs or Green/Yellow/Blue/Red personality assessments can often be a good starting point, but recognize each person is unique.

Work out your communication issues 1:1 with him first. Be transparent and avoid statements that project or accuse behaviors:

For example:

"I am having trouble understanding what you are trying to communicate" is better than, " You are not communicating with me."

If making a long term investment in improving communication isn't worth the return, its time to cut the developer and do a better job screening candidates in the future to ensure they bring the right soft skills/style to the team as well as technical skills.

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