Everyone agrees on the criticality of effective communication. But when your team is experiencing communication issues, where to start? I say, start with the basics.
In complex projects, having the right information at the right time is essential to success. Great collaboration tools are not enough. You need to understand who your audience is, how they consume information, what level of information they need and when you’ll be able to deliver it to them. For that, having a simple communication framework is a solid foundation to build on. Here’s what it looks like.
Who – document who needs information about the project. That will be team members working on it, management, stakeholders and sponsors.
What – understand what information different team members need to have. It’s particularly useful to know what information your stakeholders want to see,
When – establish a cadence and expectations about when you will communicate – to the team, to management, to your stakeholders.
How – lengthy project summary reports are probably not what your key stakeholders want to slog through to get information. Determine how you will deliver information to the different constituents?
Where – make sure information is accessible. 3rd parties may not have access to your collaboration tools. Executives may not want to use them.
Know your communication style
Depending on our communication style, we tend to focus differently on certain types of information. What we focus on in our communication style can get one person’s attention but will leave another completely indifferent. Some styles focus on results, planning, achievements, looking for facts and data. Others are focused on people and emotions or concepts and big ideas. The image shows the 4 different communication styles per Pierre Casse – focus on action, process, ideas or people.
When trying to convince someone who has a different communication style than ourselves, we need to adapt our style. I know I have driven some big idea people completely crazy with my focus on details and process. They just didn’t listen, and because they weren’t listening, I kept piling on….more details. Sounds like Einstein’s definition of insanity, right? Adapting is as simple as shifting our focus to the types of information our audience is listening for.
Know your stakeholders
Keeping stakeholders happy is another essential element to smooth project management. But we all know it’s impossible to keep everyone happy all the time. That’s why you’ll want to go deep on stakeholders and do a stakeholder analysis. All stakeholders are not equal. Make sure you know which stakeholders hold power and motivation for things like impeding progress or holding back the budget.
Keep track of your stakeholders using the communication framework. Make note of their communication preferences – both what information they are interested in and how they want to consume it. And make sure you have the right communication cadence with them.
Finally, never forget that communication is a two-way street. It’s not enough to establish all the ways you can and will communicate with others. You need to be open and receptive to what others have to communicate. The best way to do that is through engaged listening. We are most engaged when we are interacting and participating in a conversation. Listening with focus is the starting point. Hear what they have to say, make sure you understood it and consider what else you need to know.
There are a number of ways you can be more engaged in listening. Paraphrase what you heard using your own words, or repeat it word for word, to ensure you completely understood. Get clarification by asking specific, open-ended questions. Show that you identify with the problem and share similar examples. Finally, when exchanging with a group of people, summarize the various view points and next steps.
Effective communication takes focused attention. In a chaotic, multi-tasking, attention grabbing environment, it is more important than ever. Stay tuned for the next blog on managing stress.