Communication makes sure that everyone’s on the same page at the same time. What you communicate affects a project’s entire decision-making process. That includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. But it also includes certain tools to make sure that what gets said, gets exchanged and understood by everyone involved. Those people are called stakeholders. How stakeholders receive and respond to your message determines how team communication is effective in the workplace.
Keep in mind that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communication. Keeping everyone in the loop isn’t always easy but it is necessary to address workplace and specific project issues that keeps work and projects moving forward.
So who’s talking now?
Where there’s half a dozen people, there’s half a dozen unique expressive and receptive personalities. Not everyone’s going to be hanging on your every word. Cell phones will vibrate, someone will be wondering about breaks, others may be fighting back sleep deprivation. So how do you engage each one of these people in an environment that screams “it’s not a good time” right now?
Channeling lines of communication
The more people that you have to communicate with, the tougher it will be to get everyone on that same page–and tougher to keep everyone in the loop as time goes by. When you have someone trying to convey a message to five other people, you can bet those five other people will be talking to each other. Trying to manage all those conversations is impossible. So what do you do?
Whether you’re a project manager or simply trying to get information from point A to point B, you have to manage your paths of communication in order to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Project managers actually have a formula to manage communication pathways, but that’s beyond this post’s scope. Suffice to say that improving employee engagement will always improve communication.
Nonverbal cues play an important role in communication
Even your facial expressions, hand gestures and your appearance nonverbally communicates messages. Your nonverbal social cues communicate message intensity. Project managers want to be taken seriously. If someone is talking to you at eye level and not looking away, this signals that you’d better listen and heed what is being said. If a gesture is light-hearted, like a smile or a casual flip of a hand, not so much.
Don’t discount appearance. If your appearance conveys anxiety, the person receiving your message may become anxious. People’s emotions often play off each other’s perceived feelings. Anxious people tend not to be active listeners. Don’t waste time with anxiety.
Even location can affect how your message is received by others. If you are leaning in at the water cooler whispering about a project or a person, your chat may not be taken with more than a grain of salt since you’re informally passing along what could be conveyed as gossip during a break. However, if you take that same location to remind that person that you will have a team meeting in 15 minutes, that person knows that there might be ramifications for being late. This kind of communication uses both pitch and tone of voice. It’s called paralingual communication. Sarcasm is a form of this kind of paralingual communication that most people understand.
Garbage in, garbage out. Input, need input.
Input is interactive. Sure, what you say can fall on deaf ears, but that also is an interaction, a choice to ignore communication. Input isn’t just verbal, it is written. Even a computer needs input before it can spew output. Project management input includes all those verbal and written compilations that drive your project to completion.
- Formally written documentation like a contract or project management plan
- Formally verbal like a presentation before an audience
- Informal written documentation like emails or sticky notes
- Informal verbal like phone calls, hall chats or in-person or Zoom meetings
As you gain experience in project management, you’ll get a feel for what works best for collaboration. Sometimes it’s plan-driven communication. Sometimes it’s change-driven or a combination of both.
Waterfall vs. agile methods of communication
The older approach to workplace communications is the waterfall management approach. This is a trickle-down method that’s not always effective in a team-oriented workplace. Most businesses operate under agile teams or a hybrid agile-waterfall method of communication. Agile is no longer a novelty or buzzword, but a method that promotes frequent communication. Agile workplaces communicate project information by chunking out projects into manageable pieces called sprints.
Sprinting toward the effective communication and project management
Track stars train differently for sprints than they do for cross-country, right? It’s the same for business. The waterfall method is like running around the track or field for your best personal time while sprinting is akin to running relays. Your cross-country performance affects the team after all is said and done, but sprinting affects the team in the midst of competition.
Sprint communication provides teams the opportunity to see what is working for a project and how to fix what isn’t working. Agile communication is collaborative and engages your team face-to-face so your team members interact with the messaging you’re inputting and are able to respond. You don’t want to just communicate when there’s a problem needing solved! The Project Management Professional study guide tells us that there are 5 basic phases of communication:
- Acknowledging that your message was received
- Transmitting messages to and from all the persons on the team
- Feedback is response to a message
- Encoding modifies a message so it can be sent
- Decoding is understanding that modified message
Effective feedback requires active listening. Active listening means you’ve decoded what is being messaged to you. Active listening stems from effective feedback. With all that’s been communicated, what are you going to do with the information?
As you can see effective workplace communication is decidedly holistic and you might very well use a waterfall-agile hybrid depending on the team dynamics your company currently uses. Whichever communication style your company embraces, you will need to distribute that message using whatever tools are at your disposal.
The tools of communication you need now
We’ve briefly talked about both models and methods of communication. But you also need the tools to implement that communication so that everyone knows what needs to be done and when. These tools fall under both formal and informal verbal and written communication and are used to distribute information. You’ll use:
- Electronic and hard copy documentation
- Performance reporting
- Communication technology
- Specific project communication
- Project management plan and document updates
- Organization process assets
The idea is to keep the flow of communication flowing. Use the tools at your disposal and ask for ones that your company doesn’t have. The bottom line is that as project manager, the buck stops where team communication stops.
Are you in the loop yet?
How to communicate effectively requires both introspection and retrospection. Whether you’re new to a company or are new to a project management position, there’s always going to be some push-back regarding best practices in getting your message across. It’s a process of input and output, knowing what is garbage in, garbage out and lessons learned.
It’s always a challenge getting your stakeholders on board with a new project and getting to know how you communicate with them. If you choose a waterfall process of communication, it will tend to be plan-driven and not change-driven. Another word for change-driven communication processes is iterative. Flashback to the sprints. Each sprint brings further communication and change that drives the project forward to its end.
If you are communicating in a plan-driven way, you aren’t necessarily communicating holistically. The communication challenge is that the plan drives the project and not the change agents, namely, the team.
The University of Dayton offers a short course on “Project Management: Practical Skills and Application” that will put you on the track for communication management that works. Stay tuned in. Stay in the loop. Keeping the lines of communication open isn’t about perfect speech, but relationships that work toward your project’s end.