“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” Albert Einstein
It is a widely published and known fact that 90% of a project manager’s time should be or is spent on communication. Communication includes several activities (meetings, managing conflicts, discussions, debates, reporting etc.) conducted by different means (e- mail, phone, fax, teleconference, video conference etc.) at different times and places. Though communication involves multiple parties, the project manager should take responsibility for clear understanding of all messages between parties involved in a project, thus ensuring smooth information flow.
Communication is about sending and receiving clear and specific messages that are understood by the parties involved. These messages translate into desirable actions and outcome. Communication can be direct and/or interactive through verbal, signs and body language. In interactive communication the preferred mode is constructive discussion. Constructive discussion leads to solutions, while destructive discussion leads to deadlock.
Before you initiate a communication identify appropriate audience or recipients of the message, and ensure that the theme, subject or agenda is stated clearly to encourage focused message and discussion. That does not entirely prevent distractions caused by others who may not share the theme or intentionally and silently pursuing a different agenda. However, stating your theme, subject or agenda upfront enables you to focus or re-focus the participants on the message.
Effective communication requires maturity, understanding, professionalism and good judgement. A project manager should have a big heart, not focusing on noises or distractions. Your ability to recognize trees from the forest, differentiate reality from fiction, deception and politics from straight talk, and diplomacy from misrepresentation, will play a big role in crafting your message and response to every situation. As a project manager, you should be sensitive, bold and decisive; be tolerant of diverse opinions but not tolerant of non-performance, which could negatively affect team effort and project outcome.
You may be distracted, dealing with difficult people, insulted and rudely treated by a stakeholder. However, your ability to maturely resist distractions and not give in to cheap shots will be rewarding. Recognizing every bad or ugly situation and its impact on the outcome will help you to determine the right judgement to ensure positive outcome.
The use of a well established project governance and communication plan will enhance your communication effectiveness. A communication plan should at the minimum identify and specify key stakeholders, their interests, message description, message format and frequency. A clear communication plan captures stakeholders’ expectations and ensures that relevant messages are shared with the appropriate stakeholders.
Obtain the communication requirements from all stakeholders, to develop the communication plan. Validate the communication plan with the stakeholders, that is, obtain their consent. Table 1 contains a reference or link to a communication plan/guide template.
- Do not in any way misrepresent or manipulate facts. You may get immediate benefits, but the end result and consequences may be more costly than the earlier gains. Be factual and tactful.
- Do not allow your ego to be paramount in dealing with others and project issues. You have to be focused; you cannot afford not to be. Many things happen on projects – good, bad and ugly. Your ability to stay above the water will always pay off to making the project successful.
- Avoid sending generic messages or reports. Send customized, focused and relevant messages to the stakeholders. Some stakeholders may consider your message irrelevant (this may not be necessarily true) due to non-direct value to their specific role or due to frustration in dealing with the high volume of messages they receive. Do not take it personal. You may not be able to please everyone, just fine tune your communication approach and information sharing effectiveness, based on the circumstance. Limit the number of messages and reports you send out or publish. Keep it simple, consolidate where possible and share with the relevant recipients.
- Avoid resolving conflict via e-mail or fax, as they may be recorded, recalled or referenced for purposes you may not expect. Preferred and recommended method is face-to-face discussion. Explore other verbal means where face-to-face meeting is not possible, especially in the case of remote teams.
- Whatever you do, show good attitudes and behaviours. These are what people see. Keep your personal and cultural believes to yourself, they may impact your attitude and behaviours. No matter what you do, not everyone will be pleased, because some may make a perception of you even without knowing you well enough. It takes time to build trust and you may not have enough time to do that during the duration of a typical project. However, your effort, candour and accomplished result will be the evidence of your substance.
- Showing good attitudes should be a given for a project manager. Realising you may not always be right, acknowledge your mistakes and you will not drag issues unnecessarily. Most stakeholders will show understanding if you acknowledge your mistakes and demonstrate ability to learn fast. Nonetheless given in, in order to smooth things over or hide issues, is not advisable. There are situations where compromise could make sense, for instance when there is no apparent difference in value creation from alternate options. You are not a project manager because you are smarter than others, it is a discipline or role that you have chosen to make a difference, so act wisely.
- Do not expect everyone to agree with everything you say or do. Ensure you have the buy-in of most stakeholders. However, if you have to wait until everyone agrees with your message or proposal, you may never accomplish anything. Sometimes it is wise to act first and ask for forgiveness later.
- Be respectful, show good manners, and act fairly and legally. Good behaviours are not constraint by believes or cultures, rather they cut across cultural boundaries. These behaviours will take you anywhere and enable you to connect with your project teams, even in a multi-cultural setting or organization.
- Be aware of others egos, ask questions rather than dictate. This will enable you to elicit facts and bring out the best in others. Whatever you do, be patient but act swiftly. There are differences between patience and slackness, and between swiftness and erratic behaviour.
- The quality of the matching of your words, actions and result is the measure and evidence of your substance and performance.
- When you have a meeting or presentation, particularly with the external stakeholders, spend time to prepare with the core team and other key stakeholders to clarify agenda, capture issues, review options and understand implications of the situations. This way you minimize surprises during the actual meeting or presentation.
- Promote interactive meetings and presentations. This way, stakeholders feel a sense of belonging, participation and responsibility for the information being shared and decision making, going forward. This in turn promotes commitment to fulfil stakeholders’ expectations.
- When you communicate with the business clients avoid the use of technical or professional jargons. Shield them away from the product technicalities and express every situation in terms of solutions, issues/risks management and value creation.
Presentation is a major part of communication activities. Each presentation should be focused to the target audience. The key steps to effective presentation include the following:
§ Define the subject of discussion, the goal of the presentation and the audience.
§ Plan your agenda. Outline, gather and prepare content and practice before the presentation.
§ Ensure a clear path from start to end, make the connection. Focus on the key issues and avoid fluffy stuff.
§ Be comfortable and sound natural, and stick to the relevant points and keep to time. Be simple, clear and audible.
§ Listen attentively and respond to criticism gracefully or turn criticism into opportunities.
§ Make it interactive, particularly if you are seeking suggestions and/or decision on the next steps.
§ Re-state objectives at the beginning and at the end; confirm understanding and positions of the audience. Include details and additional information, if applicable, in the attachment or as appendix.