What is good communication? By definition, a sender forms a message and then sends that message to the receiver. In turn, the receiver converts the message in order to "understand" what is being sent and subsequently forms a response back to the sender.
It is that receipt back to the sender that is the critical component that can make or break good communication.
How many times have you heard—"Well, I told them, and they didn’t do what I asked"? Whenever I hear someone say that, I ask them, "How many times and how many ways did you tell them?" Almost every time, the person looks at me quizzically. When they do, I take the opportunity to get on my soapbox to highlight some of the problems with their assumption.
Here are four common problems people often see that undermine effective communications.
Sending an email and assuming that no response is an agreement.
In today’s world of high technology, we have yet to find a person complain that they don’t get enough email. Usually just the opposite is true. We are bombarded with emails from those who really have something to say, but unfortunately from people who have the desire to copy EVERYONE, and also from those that are just spamming. We as a culture have yet to master this technology, which can allow the truly important information to float to the top and the unimportant filtered out. It is a mistake on the sender’s part to assume that the message has been heard without any response.
Holding a meeting to discuss the subject and have no minutes or results of the meeting to show for it.
We live in a fast-paced society and it seems like we are always on the go, from meeting to meeting. As the problems we solve get more and more complex, it is ever more important to document decisions and discussions and index them in order to quickly reference them when questions arise. We have seen prior decisions get unraveled and teams go through a long drawn out re-hashing of prior discussions ONLY to arrive back at the starting point from which we came. Wouldn’t it have been easier to have reviewed prior minutes to understand how the decision came to be, first?
Assuming that if someone is nodding their head, that they understand.
This is not just a cultural issue, but a fact that many people in this world fear conflict and will nod their head in agreement only to undermine the decision once the meeting is over. Don’t be fooled by a nod of the head. Work with each participant on obtaining that confirmation back that they understand the discussion or decision. Allow them the opportunity to ask questions. If an individual has a tendency to not want to speak up in meetings, work with that person individually to ensure their level of understanding.
Not using explicit and unambiguous communications.
Have you ever been in a meeting and someone is going on and on and on about a subject? Have you ever ‘tuned’ out only to have to ask the person state their position again? Wouldn’t it be nice to state what needs to be stated—no more, no less? You may be surprised, but the English language is actually a better language than many languages in being more explicit and unambiguous.
Languages vary. English is a "low context" language, whereas Arab and Japanese are more ‘high context’. In a high context language, a word can be used in several ways; depending upon its ‘context’, the word will take on different meanings. This adds to the difficulty in communicating. The best thing you can do is to choose your words carefully and state concisely in order to minimize others ‘tuning out’.
There have been studies made in how people learn best. It is a known fact that comprehension is at its "lowest" when reading. It improves when speaking and is most effective when actual application is performed. When presented with a situation in which it is difficult or impossible for team members to apply a concept, specifically in new technology design, the learning process is impeded as well as good communication.
The best thing a Project Manager can do to ensure good communication, is to tell them, tell them again, and then tell them once again.
Frequent and Short Meetings
When dealing with new technology projects, It is always advisable to have frequent short meetings with the entire team. Preferably these meetings should be face-to-face; however, short focused meetings work effectively with remote workers as well.
It was found that daily 15-minute meeting is more effective than weekly 1 hour meeting or Monthly 4 hour meeting. These short meetings serve the great purpose because someone had questions that we were able to resolve right then and there and the entire team was informed of the decision. These short meetings are also extremely valuable in setting priority for the day, so that we don’t work on tasks that aren’t moving the project forward.
So the check list a Project Manger should maintain for effective communication of the issues in his project are:
- Do you send your messages clearly and concisely?
Do the receivers of your message take the time to understand the message being sent and then take the time to repeat back to the sender their understanding?
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming your communications are clear and understood. If you take the effort to ensure your message is clear, you will reap the rewards.