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Home » Student Guide to Group Work » Communicating Effectively

Communicating Effectively

This module explores why effective communication is key to group success and shares communication strategies and techniques to foster constructive, respectful communication in general and specific contexts like group meetings or dealing with difficult conversations. You’ll also learn about different modes and tools to support communication in group settings.

Students may benefit from using this module in tandem with the recently launched Student Project Toolkit.

Getting Started

  • Define how frequently group members should communicate/check in and how quickly responses are expected
  • Share contact information so that everyone is easily reachable
  • Share schedules and availability to make meeting scheduling easy
  • Discuss how you will communicate and which communication methods/platforms the group will use. See our Communication & Planning Tools Guide
  • Decide how your group wants to communicate with your professor or TA at different stages of the group project, e.g., at key deadline stages
  • Follow these constructive communication practices to maintain positive relationships:
    • Be courteous and clear
    • Be respectful
    • Engage in active and tolerant listening
    • Make sure each person is heard
    • Be prepared to give and receive constructive feedback
    • Do not take comments or criticism personally
    • Be open to diverse points of view
  • Visit Teamwork Skills: Being an Effective Group Member for more tips and strategies for effective communication and teamwork

Tools, & Templates

Teamwork Skills: Being an Effective Group Member shares tips on how to communicate effectively in a group context and how to foster a healthy group climate and an effective group process.

Receiving and Giving Effective Feedback offers practical and constructive tips on how to receive feedback from others and how to communicate feedback effectively to others.

Plan Effective Meetings

Before each meeting:

  • Identify key roles like facilitator, note keeper and time keeper. Consult the Guide to Group Roles & Maximizing Performance
  • Decide on how long each meeting needs to be
  • Create and share an agenda of topics to be covered so everyone can prepare for and focus on key issues
  • Agree on a mechanism for group members to notify the facilitator of agenda items
    • Discuss how the team will make decisions - majority rules? Full consensus? Another way?

After each meeting:

Tools & Templates

Meeting Strategies for Group Work offers you tips on planning and running meetings, covering the three contexts of before, during and after a meeting. Use this resource to learn about roles and associated tasks that can be key to effective meetings and activities and tools to help with different stages of a meeting such as opening discussion or narrowing down to solutions.

The Minute-Taking Tips and Techniques Guide helps you understand what is meant by meeting minutes, and provides tips for effective minute-taking categorized by what to consider before the meeting and after the meeting. Other sections relate to confidential minutes and retention and disposition of minutes.

The Group Meeting Minutes Template helps you keep a good record of group meetings including meeting logistics, attendees and regrets information, as well as agenda items, notes and action items.

The Guide to Group Roles & Maximizing Performance provides you with examples of common group work roles and associated key tasks and typical phrases with the goal of fostering effective communication and group productivity.

Negotiate Disagreements

  • Accept that disagreements can happen due to differing opinions, ideas or issues
  • Recognize that constructive disagreement or debate can lead to creativity and learning
  • Beware of “groupthink”, where everyone agrees too quickly to avoid conflict and maintain group harmony with negative consequences for group performance and results.  Learn more at: Groupthink: An Introduction video
  • Focus on issues, tasks and goals, not individuals, and follow the ground rules defined in your Group Charter
  • Use “I” or “We” rather than “You” statements to avoid an accusatory tone.
  • Be respectful
  • Articulate your needs
  • Revisit the objectives of the group project
    • If the group is losing focus resulting in disharmony, re-energize and increase motivation by discussing goals like getting a good grade, trying something new, or learning from this collaborative experience
  • Develop strategies for dealing with members who haven’t been communicating and/or a member who has been dominating
  • Adopt proven techniques or strategies to engage in constructive problem solving
  • Consult Resolving Conflict for more techniques and approaches

Tools & Templates

The Groupthink: An Introduction video helps you learn what groupthink is and about the challenges it can present, illustrated through a humorous entrepreneurial group venture.

The Group Charter Template, to be used in tandem with the Group Charter with Guidelines and Examples, should be worked on collaboratively by you and other group members, and serve as a primary document to guide your group process and tasks. The Ground Rules and Performance Agreement sections are especially relevant to setting expectations around behaviour and helping to negotiate disagreements.

The Group Charter with Guidelines and Examples, to be used in tandem with the Group Charter Template, offers you a group charter with explanations and examples which will be useful to adapt or draw on when compiling your own group charter. The Ground Rules and Performance Agreement sections are especially relevant to setting expectations around behaviour and helping to negotiate disagreements.

The Stop, Name, Ask & Explain Technique helps you negotiate difficult conversations in order to ultimately promote inclusion in group contexts. The diagram shared provides useful short tips on what behaviours and actions you can adopt during each of the stages highlighted.

The DEAR MAN DBT Skill website includes a video and a text-based guide. “DEAR MAN” is an acronym  - describe, express, assert, reinforce, (stay) mindful, appear confident, negotiate - with each letter representing its own skill that can be very useful in resolving a conflict or making a request in an effective and respectful way. It is often used in counselling or therapy situations but has broader applications including negotiating difficult conversations in group work contexts.

The Resolving Conflict: Working in Groups Student Toolkit will help you understand the key characteristics of conflict, and equips you with tips and techniques for managing conflict, and ground rules that can be helpful in the specific context of conflict resolution. You will also find additional resources for skills enhancement.

Be Intentional About Modes of Communication

  • Decide early which modes of communication you will use to best achieve group tasks
  • Weigh the pros and cons of in-person or virtual synchronous (real time) communication (e.g., meetings, videoconferencing, phone, chat) versus asynchronous (time lag) communication (e.g. text or video messaging, project management apps) and agree which you will use for what purposes and tasks. For example:
    • Bigger or higher stakes decisions should be made synchronously (in real-time), where active participation and interactive discussion are possible.
    • Smaller decisions or logistics can be managed asynchronously (via text, email etc.), where each member can proceed at their own pace without a need for scheduling.
    • Check out the Synchronous versus Asynchronous Communication Video
  • Discuss accessibility needs or other concerns within the team regarding modes of communication
  • Recognize that some team members may be in different locations and consider time differences
  • If you are communicating online, check out: York 101 Virtual Learning Special Video and the York 101 Exploring the World of Netiquette Video for tips on using Zoom and netiquette.

Tools & Templates

The Communication & Planning Tools Guide helps you discover tools that can be used to support communication, planning and other functions or tasks that a group typically needs to engage in to be effective and productive. Under each broad category you will find links to software or tools made available to students at York University, as well as tools that are available with full or partial features/functionality on the free web.

The Synchronous versus Asynchronous Communication video describes the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication and helps you understand the benefits and disadvantages of using each. It also outlines how some tools may blend synchronous and asynchronous aspects.

The York 101 Virtual Learning Special Video will equip you with knowledge of key features of zoom which can be used in group settings to promote more effective and interactive meetings.

The York 101: Exploring the World of Netiquette Video defines netiquette, i.e., adopting effective and appropriate online behaviour as a student at York, with strong relevance to group contexts.

The Student Guide to Remote & Online Learning helps you to become a more effective remote learner including sections on getting tech ready and forming online study groups which speak to different modes of communication.

Except where otherwise noted, all resources in the Student Guide to Group Work, authored by the Learning Commons at York University in 2020, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If you reuse, adapt or build upon this work, please cite The Student Guide to Group Work, Learning Commons, York University and link to 

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