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Communication in Project Management

Communication is the most important skill for success in project management.  Keeping the team on the same page with detailed but simple communication is critical for being a top project manager.

Communication is an essential part of community and life.  We communicate each day in many ways with family, friends, and colleagues.  The list of communication methods continues to expand with new apps and technologies being released daily.  Communication is key to building trust, demonstrating empathy or understanding, information exchange, knowledge proliferation, receiving feedback, preventing or avoiding mistakes, etc.  The list of important reasons why communication is critical could go on and on.  There are many sources available that teach methods and strategies for better communication.  The book that is most relevant for project managers is a book called “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey.  This is a business book focused on developing relationships built on trust.  In a relationship, everything is easier when both parties trust each other.  Here are Covey’s 5 character-based behavior recommendations:

 

  1. Talk Straight. Communicate clearly so that those you are communicating with will understand you.  Offer clear intent for what you are about to communicate.  Avoid “counterfeit” behaviors such as withholding necessary information, flattery, and spin.  Be honest and call a spade a spade.  Don’t attempt to manipulate people, distort the truth or create a false reality.

 

  1. Demonstrate Respect. Sincere recognition and appreciation for the other person demonstrates respect, communicates fairness, and civility.  The “counterfeit” is to fake respect or concern.  This is especially deceitful when offered only to those from which you can potentially benefit.

 

  1. Create Transparency. Team members and stakeholders want to know what is really going on.  New project managers often tend to want to withhold details in an effort to assert their authority.  This is short term thinking that leads to distrust.  Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”  Effective project managers know that addressing issues openly with the team is the surest way to resolution and maintaining the integrity of the team.  They develop a “what you see is what you get” approach to communication – internally and externally.

 

  1. Right Wrongs. Humility and courage are critical when accepting responsibility for a mistake or series of mistakes.  The team members will take your word in addressing mistakes.  If you address a mistake or wrongdoing with an immediate apology and begin to repair any damage, your team will do the same.  If you refuse to accept responsibility for your mistakes, the team will do the same.  Monkey see, monkey do is the team credo.  As the leader, being quick to right a wrong will lead to expanded trust regardless of the mistake.  This recommendation is one of the most difficult for project managers young and old to implement.

 

  1. Show Loyalty. In my 24 years of industry experience, this is the behavior that leaders struggle with the most.  When a team member disagrees with us and the issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of each member, lobbying begins to take place outside the meeting room.  Character-based leadership requires that all issues be communicated openly in the presence of the member with which the leader has the issue.  Gossip will destroy trust and teamwork faster than any other violation.  It is also important that ideas are credited to the people that made them.  It is common for project managers to attempt to accept credit not due to them or to minimize the contributions of others.  The best plan is to overly express your enthusiasm and appreciation for the contributions of your team members.

 

 

Next, let’s explore the fundamentals of communication.  We have already established that trust is the foundation on which honest and sincere communication can take place.  There are a few additional best practices that we should review and the professional project manager must learn to master.

 

Speaking – This is as basic as it gets but many people struggle to clearly articulate a message.  This is especially true for many engineers that have transitioned into the PM role.  We have discussed the keys to establishing and building trust through our communication practices.  Here are some tips to help you become a better communicator:

 

  • Know why you are about to say what you are about to say. Too often we open our mouths without clear intent and as a result, send mixed messages.  This puts the project at risk because the leader determines the direction for the team and confusion creates a breeding ground for mistakes, apathy, and loss of confidence in leadership.  Words matter, so learn to say it well by first knowing why you are going to say what you are going to say.
  • Know your audience. Verbal communication is fundamental to all of us, but not all of us should be communicated to in the same way.  Discprofile.com is a great resource for better understanding the styles of communication that work best for the different personalities that exist.  While we are unique individuals, our styles can be condensed to 4 characteristics.  When you know someone’s dominate characteristic, you can more easily communicate and connect with them.
  • Clearly articulate your expectations. If the conversation has a specific desired outcome, it is important to state the expectation up front and then repeat during wrap up.  I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to communicate expectations only to get sidetracked and never address the reason for connecting in the first place.
  • Consider using an acronym to help you with the more important conversations – WAC – Why – Audience – Clear Expectations. This might seem a little goofy but on your way to mastery, any trick or tactic that helps with communication matters.

 

Writing – There is a sweet spot with sharing of written content.  In today’s world of email and ten other communication tools, it is critical to write well.  It is easy to misinterpret an incorrectly worded email.  The difference could mean success or failure.  What is your style?  Do you write a book?  Are your messages short and vague?  Do you use big words and confusing prose? Here are some tips to help you write more clearly.

  • Have a clear subject line. The most important aspect of the email is the subject line.  The subject line can serve a couple of purposes.  It can clearly state if action is required.  The title should clearly identify the email content and include relevant information such as date, time, and location.
  • Create templates for all of your email communication as a project manager. Following the same pattern with your emails allows your team to quickly review the email for necessary and relevant content.  This is a hack that pays dividends the longer you work with your team because the mind is adept at identify patterns and will quickly be able to review and respond versus searching for relevant details.
  • Avoid lengthy explanations. Studies have shown that emails longer than one screen are most often deleted without being read.  Stick to the facts and the point you are attempting to convey and move on.
  • Create a folder for all team members to access. This folder should include the latest and archived request for quotes, machine tool specifications, other relevant specifications, latest drawings including models, meeting minutes, executive summary, project timeline, and all pertinent project information.

 

Exceptional project managers are exceptional communicators.  They are intentional about what they say and how they are saying it.  Great communicators demonstrate empathy and become adept at reading body language.  Empathy sincerely demonstrated is the quickest path to developing trust in any relationship.  When we understand the other person’s situation, it makes it easier to connect and find common ground.

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