IPC1Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

How well do you communicate with people?

Project managers can succeed or fail based on their skills as communicators. Some might say that a well-made project plan is the key to a manager's success or that strong negotiation and leadership skills are the key to success; however, without strong communication skills all of the other things won't matter. You must be able to effectively communicate your intent in order to execute, coordinate, and lead or anything that involves providing people the information needed to bring the project to a successful conclusion.

Think about how often you actively communicate or prepare some form of communication medium to send a message, provide or solicit information from another person. What are the methods you use and how often are in some means of communication? Every day that you try to provide or exchange information with someone, whether or not you can actually see them, you are engaged in interpersonal communications. Even when you are not intending on providing a particular message, your behavior, your physical actions provide cues or unintentional messages.

Interpersonal communications can take many forms: writing an email or snail mail letter; writing a school paper, academic research paper, teach a class, giving a briefing, or even preparing a project status report. We are putting forward a message, some form of information and, as well, receiving some sort of feedback whether it's in the form of a message or via non-verbal cues. Because we communicate with people and people have wants, needs, feelings, different levels of understanding, emotions, likes, dislikes, so on and so forth, you must be conscious of what it takes to effectively and efficiently communicate to the intended receivers: the people, the team, followers, bosses, anyone with a heart-beat. You must also be able to actively listen, recognize communication distracters and filters, as well as, deal with environmental obstacles to be an effective communicator.

IPC2Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Advantages and Disadvantages

Two-Way Modes of Communications: The most effective way to communicate is situational and intent driven. Two-way modes of communicate like face-to-face, including team meetings, video conference calls are far better at allowing you to get immediate feedback both verbally and non-verbal. The word "immediate" is important because, in face-to-face communications you have the opportunity to read body language that may indicate a lack of understanding, commitment, or may also show excitement, joy, and a myriad of other emotion that could be keys to the success of the project or team activity. You can read your audience, respond immediately to questions and concerns and ask your own questions to clarify information. Telephone two-way, internet calls and conference calls still provide some benefits of responding to questions; however, when you are looking at the person or persons your message is intended for, there is a tendency to have a more honest and complete exchange of timely information.

One-Way Modes of Communication: Although it may seem like emailing and texting are two-way communications to the younger generation, they are not. It's true that both parties can respond back and forth but unless all parties are at the key board or phone keys and hanging on to every response immediately, there is always a lag in the response time. Most employees and managers are not staring at their email in-boxes waiting for every message to come in nor do they instantly read and respond to those same said emails. Often times, these email collect up and get mixed in with a variety of other mail and you have to take time to review all of them and prioritize which ones you will respond to when. Of course the benefit is that you can usually take time and think of how you want to respond or questions you might have or prepare detailed reports as attachments to an email. However, as for reading body language or non-verbal responses: not so much. Letters or also called snail-mail is even worse: if your intent is to send some formalize document for signature or for advertising purposes or for sending reports so that someone can have a hard copy of a report or other type document, paper-mail has the same limitations as previously mentioned and more - it's really not a legitimate means of two-way communications, although it is a tool for supporting other means of communications.

IPC3Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Importance in Project Management

As said earlier, projects can live or die on communications within the project team and supporting stakeholders. Rarely do project managers have direct supervision over all the team members so communication skills as well as negotiating skills (still part of communications) are paramount to a successful project. Communication skills, planning and organizational skills, team building skills, leadership skills, and the ability to manage change in a project represent, in that order, are the most important project management skills. These skills are even more important than a project manager having the actual technology skills.

Bottom line: More than 80% of what we do involves communications in one form or another. As such, there is a direct correlation between the ability to communicate and project success.

Communication Elements

There are six elements in communications: the communicator or sender, the message, the medium, the recipient or receiver, barriers and feedback.

The Communicator: The communicator is the sender or person whom has a message to impart to one or more recipients or receivers. The communicator is responsible for the clarity of the message. How the sender encodes the message, the format chosen to transmit the message in words, symbols, etc., will also affect the comprehension of the message. Other factors that affect the sender's communications is being clear and organized, speaking skills or speech, and his or her body Language. Be clear, organized, and specific, stay focused and choose the appropriate language. Remember that body language can be 60 percent of your communications. Keep eye contact; watch your posture and facial cues. Be aware of your own idiosyncratic movements like hair twirling, change jingling, pencil tapping, finger tapping, or playing with your keys. These habits will distract from the message and may adversely affect its accurate reception.

Have you ever talked with someone or observed or listen to someone speak that was obviously disorganized, unclear in their statements, demonstrated poor speaking skills and had very distracting nonverbal habits or body language? How did it affect the message that was being delivered? How did it affect your ability to receive the message? How did it make you feel?

  1. The Message: The message itself is what the sender wants to communicate as in providing information, questions, or to persuade someone to act.
  2. The Medium: The medium refers to the method used to transport message, written, verbal, video, audio, formal and informal and includes e-documents, hard copy documents, briefings, reports, etc.
  3. The Recipient: The recipient or receiver is the person for whom the message is intended and is responsible for making sure the message is understood. It is the recipient that must decode the message leading to the receiver's interpretation of the message.
  4. Barriers to Communication: When we communicate and prepare our messages barriers or adverse influences will affect the accuracy of the receipt of your message. Think about what might be a barrier to communications. They include lack of motivation, timeliness or timing, hidden agendas, fear of blame and retribution, different and conflicting needs and goals, cultural factors, lack of interest, frame of reference, listening skills, language, attitudes and emotions, and semantics.
  5. Feedback: Now let's talk about this part of the communications process that is often overlook and yet is so critical to effective communications. Don't assume that because your message is sent it has been received and understood. Verify the message is received by asking leading questions that will test the accuracy of the receipted information. You can ask to have instructions repeated or for a reply back message to verify receipt of the original message. We can ask for a return message, especially when dealing with telephone, email, snail-mail or other non-face-to-face communications modes. Feedback is as an important: it is the way we verify whether or not the message was received and understood.

Remember to occasionally check how well your communications is working. Ask questions, follow-up with stakeholders and vendors, team members, and others to ensure that the correct information is being sent and received in a timely manner.

IPC4Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Testing the Communications

Ask questions:  Ask open-ended whenever possible such as: Why did you choose that one? Or what factors impact the due date? Ask closed-ended question when you only need a specific response like: Would you like the yellow one or the red one? Or is this the right answer? Closed questions are useful for gaining a clear cut acceptance or rejection without any other added information in the exchange. However keep in mind that the non-verbal cues attached with the YES or NO may provide much more information and lead you to have to ask an open-ended question in order to ensure that there is a clear understanding and agreement or rejection. Facial and or body language may provide a hint that the message was or was not received or understood, possible confusion, uncomfortable with the message or other indication.

Active listening is the activity of listening or hearing, observing and interpreting, processing, and validating information you receive during interpersonal communications. It is not simply the hearing of words or sounds; you have a mental process to go through and an active part to play in the communications process. Start by "stop talking." Listen to understand and not just to reply as a reaction. Observe and read body Language. Ask for clarifications, repeat or rephrase key points, don't be judgmental no matter how hard that can be.

Think about this – What is the impact of not seeing a person's face or expressions while they describe something to you? For a person providing a description or project information, what is the impact of not being able to see or hear feedback comments and questions from the audience or receivers of the descriptions? We communicate to persuade, to request, to inform, to be social and or build the team and relationships. Think about what you would consider your weaknesses and identify how you will begin making improvements.

Communication Process: The accuracy and effectiveness of our messages are affected by how we encode our information, how and what barriers come into play, the environmental climate, and the receiver's ability to capture the message as it was intended and in its proper contexts. Communication climate affects both the sender and the receiver from the respect of intelligence, knowledge base, reputation, authority, situation, circumstances, regulations, policy, laws, the business itself.

Final Word

Your communications with others in greatly affected by more than the words you speak. Only part of our communications is represented by what we say: it is important that we are specific with the words we choose and try to stay focused on the message. We all have our own way of saying things and often we have specific personal word choices we use to express ourselves, possible terms, acronyms, "sayings" that we use in our communications. Be sure to use the appropriate language and well recognized terms, definitions, and expressions to convey the message. This requires you to keep in mind who your audience is, and tailor the message to the needs of the receiver.