How Gaming Can Up-Level Your Communication at Work image

The guild’s next raid will be a daring one: your small company is barely a month away from unveiling its new product. Everyone in your party will need to understand the plan and play their part in this perilous adventure.

Andrea, a level-thirty design mage, is worried there might be hidden traps en route to the treasure. Ben and Eduardo, both seasoned software paladins, are not certain the team can crank out enough rapid-fire damage to finish off the nefarious code lich in time. Elissa, a neophyte copy elf, is too nervous to admit she’s puzzled by the arcane machine in the breakroom that the team relies on for elixirs—er, coffee. I hope the team cleric casts a pizza buff soon, she tells no one. I’m sick of listening to the compliance shaman drone on.

One thing that will help this crew—and yours, too—is communication. No one player can carry the team alone; knowing what the others are working on, why, and how their respective efforts all fit into a shared goal is essential to unlocking high-level achievements.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be a total chore: hard-won lessons in collaboration from gaming also apply in team situations at work.

Take turns and ask for pointers

Work communications, like many games, are often asynchronous—you send an email and then wait for a reply, you make your move and then watch to see what the next player does, etc.

One way to think about this is like a friendly game of chess with a workmate at the office. Let’s say it’s untimed, so the match might unspool over the course of a week. A few times each day, you walk by the board and see your colleague has slid a note to your side of the table that says “your move.” You study your options and make a decision, then slide the note back across.

The key difference between this game of chess and your ongoing email thread with Randy from engineering is this: you and Randy are working toward the same objective—a successful product launch next month. So instead of trying to outfox him with a crafty discovered check, you can simply ask Randy for input on your next move, e.g., “Hey, what’s the range of outputs for this field we’re adding? I need to draft descriptions ahead of Thursday’s meeting.”

Soliciting pointers from other players can be a boon, since eliminating guesswork improves the team’s efficiency—and also because working and playing alongside people with different skills and experience is a great way to step up your game.

Establish, listen, and expound

This collaborative spirit also applies in games with more players and quicker turns, just as it might in a meeting where you and several colleagues are trying to puzzle through a series of design hurdles.

Consider a cooperative game like Pandemic, where players take on such roles as medic, researcher, and operations expert in a race to halt the spread of disease around the globe. In Pandemic, it’s often helpful to devise a plan by working backward from where you’re trying to end up; each player often knows their next move well before their turn. So the scientist can work to discover a cure for the disease while the medic battles to stem its spread, and so on.

Sometimes it’s helpful to start by establishing what’s known—what challenges your team has to surmount, for instance, along with limitations (deadlines at the office, turn order around the table, etc). Here, it pays not only to be a thoughtful listener but also to show others you’re hearing them. It’s not a point you have to belabor, but building on what’s already been said before adding fresh ideas can be a way to steer the conversation forward, toward a collaborative solution.

It’s also worth remembering that players who aren’t eager talkers often still have worthwhile ideas—so when you can, make sure they have room to open up.

Be direct, keep calm, and minimize chatter

In some games, there is no waiting—everyone is actively playing all the time. Think of a game like Pit, which emulates bidding and trading for commodities in a crowded exchange: this tends to involve a lot of yelling, as well as trying to mentally filter which shouts you need to hear so you know who to transact with next.

That approach might sound fun for a little while, but it quickly gets unwieldy around the office—or while your team is in the midst of a complex assault, like that aforementioned raid.

In such circumstances, as with a heads-down deadline push at work, it’s key to impart lots of information with minimal chatter. For instance, players in games like Destiny use detailed callouts—the shorter, the better—in order to apprise their teammates of foes’ locations on a given map.

Here, as in the office, word economy is essential: be direct. Just as it helps to be succinct and not snippy with your teammates, so too must you find a balance with your colleagues, being assertive but not overbearing. The goal is to aid coordination—to make sure the design mage’s spells afford the team plenty of breathing room as the code paladins hack away.

Honing these techniques can help ensure your team doesn’t end up blindsided and on tilt in the midst of your next project. If this all takes some practice, that’s okay—every day with your team is another chance to grind more experience points!

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