Every once in a while we get an email from a customer asking about how permissions work with our products. They’re almost always asking how to prevent someone from doing something. “How do we prevent someone from posting a message or adding a to-do or downloading a file? How can we make our project site read only except for a select few?”

When we set out to build Basecamp we decided that it was going to be about communication, not control. It is our belief that when you collaborate with trusted parties it’s important for people to be able to communicate any way they see fit. Preventing someone from saying or doing something often breaks these free flowing communication channels and introduces miscommunication or silence—two cancers of collaboration.

We do have some permissions in Basecamp. There are some basic controls over who can do what, but as far as products like Basecamp go, Basecamp would be considered among the least controlling. If we started all over today we’d probably have even less permissions and less controls. Some of the controls we’ve put in place have turned out to make collaboration harder, not easier.

Back to the customers… When they ask how to prevent people from doing this or that I usually reply with something like “Have you tried asking them not to do this or that? If you don’t want them to upload files just ask them not to. If you don’t want them to create to-do lists just ask them not to. Communicate with them as you would if you weren’t using software.”

And to my delight, their replies are usually “Great idea! I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll try that and see how it works.” Follow-up emails usually come back as success stories.

Simply communicating with people about your expectations of their behavior is often the simplest and most effective solution. It’s respectful, it’s kind, it’s fair. And if someone does something you didn’t want them to do just remind them politely that they weren’t supposed to do that. They’ll almost always get it the second time.

So next time you are looking for more control, consider more communication. It may surprise you.