We all know that communication is the cornerstone of project management. However, simply exchanging words is not enough to make communication effective. Every single message needs to be clear and precise, and the whole process should be effective. But, what do we really mean by ‘effective communication’? According to ‘A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide)’ – Fifth Edition, ‘Effective communication means that the information is provided in the right format, at the right time, to the right audience, and with the right impact. Efficient communication means providing only the information that is needed.’
Effective communication is directly proportionate to the timely delivery of results and project success. So, what are the things that project managers should always remember, if they want to be effective communicators? I have tried to jot down some points. Have a look –
1. Take care of the 3 Ws
Who – Be clear for whom the piece of information is intended. Is it a team member, or a subordinate? Do you need to discuss certain issues with the senior management or stakeholders? Having this clarity should be the first step prior to devising the body of content. The tone of message, delivery method, and composition – all these things will be governed when you answer the ‘who’.
What – What is to be communicated? Does the message happen to be a weekly report? Is it a monthly performance review or some other simple information? Once you figure out what needs to be discussed, you then need to choose the right channel of communication. For example, you cannot discuss reports over the phone or chat. You would have to draft e-mails or discuss in person for that. Similarly, if the issue happens to be simple, there is no need to draft mails and waste time. It can be discussed in person or through chat support.
When – Create a timeline of when to discuss things. Stick to that timeline and follow it. Perhaps the stakeholders need weekly or monthly reports of project progress. Similarly, team members need to be communicated their tasks and responsibilities daily. If possible, try to make things automated. Auto-generate reports, and macros are perfect for automating the communication process. Decide when to share regular feedback with everyone.
2. Don’t beat around the bush
Clarity and conciseness – make sure you are able to preserve these two elements every time you need to communicate a piece of information. You could take an hour to say something, or you could summarize the same in a simple sentence as well. Take all the time in the world to discuss things if you can afford to do that. But, if the project is running short on time, try to be as short and simple as you possibly can. Stick to the concept of KISS (keep It Short and Simple).
3. Don’t just talk, listen as well!
Communication is always two-sided. One-sided talk is just a lecture. Do you need to lecture everyone, or do you want everyone to participate? Accordingly, make sure to pause occasionally and give others a chance to speak and share their thoughts. Be good at listening. Try to remove the barriers that make it difficult to understand what the person is saying; be it a technical barrier, language barrier, absent-mindedness, or lack of trust in others.
4. Decide the medium of communication
How would you like to share ideas? Do you prefer meetings or are you more comfortable with online discussions? How many ways are there to communicate the same message? Which one serves best? To answer these, you would have to analyze the nature of content/information. If the message happens to be elaborate and lengthy, you might want to use PowerPoint presentation and explain it with the help of a projector. If you need to communicate some new guideline and change in the policy, then a meeting followed by an e-mail is likely the best option.
5. Decide the motive
So, you need to share something with others. But why? What is the motive? What is to be accomplished from it? When you have this clarity, you will be able to communicate in a way that the message serves a purpose. For example, what is the purpose for which you are conducting a meeting? Is it to resolve an issue? If yes, be sure you have a solution on hands before you wind up the meeting. Otherwise, the whole purpose of it will be defeated.
6. Make sure the message is understood
How do you know if your message has been understood by the receiver? Has the person understood what you actually wanted to say? Different people can interpret a common message in different ways. The manager may have said what was needed, but the process is still incomplete if the other person didn’t understand it. Make sure the other person interpreted the message in exactly the same context in which you devised it. Do confirm by asking if others have understood the message or not. Be proactive in answering any and every query that people may have.
7. Avoid using technical jargons wherever possible
Effective communication happens when the content is easy to understand. You cannot expect a first grader to understand quantum physics. I know it’s a little extreme example, but you know what I mean. Say what you have to say, but remember who is it for, and accordingly convey it in the right manner. If you are sending a report, make sure it is easy to decipher by the person on the other end. People already have a lot on their plate. Don’t bury them with the added responsibility of decoding the message. Using too many technical jargons can make a simple message unnecessarily complex. Go with the easiest style of getting your message across.
8. Make it interesting
Office reports and presentations can be boring. However,you can make them interesting by adding an element of intrigue and fun in the communication process. Try not to sound too serious in a meeting, all the time. Try to lighten up the atmosphere with occasional humour, but at the same time don’t overdo it either. It is common for people to feel lost when the meeting is boring. But, you can keep them attentive by making the atmosphere lighter.
9. Be sure to document everything
This one is a lifesaver! People tend to easily forget what was discussed in meeting or what the client said over the phone. Each one of us can relate to it. Missing out on even smallest of detail can cause unnecessary setbacks. So, do maintain documented records of all the crucial points, whether it is the minutes of meetings or stuff discussed over the phone. Jot all the important things down as soon as they are discussed. Share it with relevant people so everyone stays on the same page and don’t miss anything.
All these points are extremely simple and yet amazingly helpful in ensuring effective communication. Every single project manager can instantly boost-up the quality of project management by taking care of these little things during communication process.