Become a Project Communication Rockstar With These 7 Tips

Communication Maja Kowalski

We hear all the time that communication is one of the most important soft skills that a project manager should possess. There are dozens of case studies where poor communication was a major contributor to a project failure. So, how do we get it right? 

1. Communicate often! There is no such thing as over-communication

2. Clarify and seek clarification. Assuming that everyone is on the same page and so there is no need to communicate is the WORST mistake you can make!

3. Consider your audience. Are they young, old, relaxed or more formal? Particularly when it comes to informal types of conversation (e.g. texting or social medial), consider what level of formal language the other party uses. Would they find acronyms and abbreviations irritating or an efficient way to convey a message?

4. What medium? Each form of communication has its use and place. Formal project documentation or status report or steering committee presentation would require a more formal language and structure, whilst quick updates to project team or immediate stakeholders can be kept at a less dense tone and could be delivered in an email.

5. Use conversation to discuss complex or controversial issues and NEVER try to resolve conflict through an email, text message/SMS, tweet or other forms of non-personal medium. A conversation is the ONLY way to discuss and resolve disagreements or varying points of views. A face-to-face communication is best in those situations, use the phone or video-conferencing for remote teams and do it carefully, with a plan.

6. Beware what’s been written is there forever! Anything you write represents you to others. Think twice before sending off an ‘emotionally loaded’ email, particularly one that contains harsh or even offensive language. A good technique is to write down your thoughts (even if they are full of anger and **** words) and then delete the note. Quick tip! Don’t put an email address in the To: field! Just in case you press a wrong button ….

7. State your point early and stick to it! Stay focussed on the message you are trying to get across. Time is money and people’s attention span is very short nowadays. Avoid unnecessary statements, lengthy explanations and getting off the track. Don’t lose sight of the point. The essence of effective communication lies in conveying your intended message, so make sure you haven’t become so bogged down in your mode of communication that you forget why you are doing it! 

Effective Project Communication Starts with Good Listening ....

"We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking."

When we mention project communication we primarily focus on the “supply” side of the communication chain. The “demand” side, i.e. listening, is often given little to no attention, whilst the most direct way to improve communication is by learning to listen more effectively.

As a listener, we apply several filters when receiving a message, such as our own judgement and beliefs, and pay attention to the level that matters to us. This often leads to just ‘hearing the word’ without ‘listening to the message’, which can often lead to ‘crossed wires’ where the speaker and the listener are on different wavelengths.

Rather than providing a laundry list of recycled tips and hints on how to improve our listening skills, let’s focus on just three common barriers to effective listening and explore the strategies that can help overcome them.

#1 Knowing the answer

This occurs when you think you know what the speaker wants to say before they actually finish saying it. For those impatient listeners, it might lead to cutting off the speaker or trying to complete the sentence for them, and even worse, interrupting by saying that you disagree without letting the other person express what it is you think you disagree with. This behaviour often leads to disagreements, tension and unhealthy conflict, whilst the message is completely lost.

Strategy: Keep an open mind, look for something new and/or interesting in what the speaker is saying. Wait three seconds after the other person has finished talking, take a deep breath and only then respond.

#2 Red flag words

These are words that so called ‘press our hot buttons’. The speaker may be unaware of their potential impact and use them unintentionally. They trigger a negative association, engage negative emotions, and divert our attention away from the remainder of the message. 

Strategy: When you hear a red flag word, stop the conversation and ask the speaker to repeat what they’ve said, and if required, to clarify what they meant by saying it. You can then either discuss those points further or agree to come back to them later and focus on the rest of the conversation.

#3 Seeing the trees without seeing the forest

Some people focus so much on the detail that they completely miss the overall context of the communication i.e. how all those single ‘trees’ fit together. Focussing only on the details is not effective communication. Neither is focusing just on the ‘forest’, as the specific points might be missed or vaguely presented, and the listener ends up filling in the gaps with their own interpretation of what the detail should be. This can lead to misinterpretation of the message and poor decision-making.

Strategy: A good listener will seek to understand the big picture as well as the key details. When communicating with ‘trees’ people, ask them to explain how each point fits into the broader context, strategy or plan. On the other hand, ask the ‘forest’ people to provide concrete examples to ensure they can support their high level view.

And a final word of wisdom … As an old Zen proverb says, "When walking, walk. When eating, eat." When it comes to communication, forget multitasking and give your full attention to either listening or talking. Be there one hundred per cent, with your whole body and mind.

With references sourced from an essay by Michael Webb http://www.sklatch.net/thoughtlets/listen.html