Communication is one of the key success factors in alliances and partnerships. In fact, it may even be the key factor in any collaboration, whether it is between colleagues or with your alliance partner. It is maybe even the cornerstone of any relationship: political, personal, professional, friendly. Whatever the relation type is, communication is the cornerstone. 

The third common mistake in alliances is that we often take communication for granted. We send messages and we think we have communicated. However, sending without validating if it has been understood is not communication, it is broadcasting. George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken placeGeorge Bernard Shaw

Now why is communication so important when building alliances? Communication is important in every relationship: it helps to bond between the partners. Only by truly listening we will be able to understand our partner and only when we communicate clearly and validate the understanding of our message, we can start to create and expand our relationships.

In workshops and presentations I often use the example of how one of my teenage daughters communicates with her school friends. Communication takes place between them through instant messaging. However, the communication is not as instant as it might feel, when response stays out, the question starts to rise why the other side is not responding.

If I am around at that moment, I can’t resist to tease her about the reason why we call it a phone. It is a marvelous invention that allows us to not only talk to, but also hear the other side. It allows for instant, two way communication. You will know how the other side responds and will be able to clarify your message if needed.

I jokingly tell about my daughter’s communication as it is an easy innocent, but recognizable, example in workshops. However at the same time we, the older generation, easily fall into a similar communication trap: the email trap. Email seems such a convenient tool and we send the messages the moment we feel comfortable. Oh and we CC a bunch of people, that safes time in our communication, as we don’t have to inform them anymore.

How often do we really check if the message has been received and understood as we intended it? Have we really communicated in a way that will strengthen our relationship, or have we just broadcasted?

Sound, visual and, maybe even more important, the nonverbal elements communicate more than the written, one way, messages. In the world of today we have all technology available at a low barrier to talk, listen and see each other when we communicate. Skype, FaceTime and Google hangout are just a few tools that are available for free that will ease our communication and add the element of seeing on top of the talking and listening.

Through video we can sense some of the body language elements and with that we will better understand our partner. Video is such an easy way to enhance communication and improve relationships, but why are we so shy in using these possibilities?

Instant messaging is on the rise. When Facebook acquired WhatsApp it was followed by a sudden increase in adoption of WhatsApp’s open source competitor Telegram. Also Apple and Google have their own messaging technologies. Messaging is available almost anywhere and anytime. Messaging certainly can be a useful part of the total communication portfolio, but it is not the “one size fits all” communication solution.

We constantly need to stay aware for George Bernard Shaw’s trap of the illusion that we have communicated. Don’t take communication for granted, but validate and be quickly and open in your communications. Good communication will build trust, while bad communication can destroy trust. Good communication will strengthen relationships and create transparency in the relationship.

Alliances may at first be created with the intended results in mind, but at the end of the day alliances are all about relationships and relationships only flourish on the back of good communication.

Read the other two articles in this series:

7 Responses to “Alliance mistake #3: Communication”

  1. Reading this article on Odesk this morning made me realize is that there is of course another dimension to communication: language! Even when we all speak English there will be a different understanding depending on your (language) background. So another element to keep in mind when communicating!

  2. Chris Johnson

    Communication is important in all aspects of life but additionally challenging in an alliance because many individuals are involved, each with an own style and interest.

    When I was a key account manager I found it useful to map out the communications that should be happening and score the effectiveness. It helped me decide where to pay more attention.

    As you point out Peter, there are plenty to tools to help us communicate but a few minutes spent in reflection can be more valuable that banging off another email.

    Chris (

  3. Michiel ten Kate

    Peter! Very true what you write! Recognisable in many situations and also key issue number one in many organisations, although it is not always recognised.

    Toughest thing in transformation programs in to bring across how people can and should communicate as communication is a subject matter that has many facets.