Becoming a Better Communicator
There’s little question that one of the key elements of being a good leader in any capacity is the ability to communicate well. And when you’re dealing with several skilled resources delivering critical functionality on a long term project worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, then it’s very obvious that the project manager must be a master communicator – processing and disseminating information efficiently, effectively and accurately throughout the engagement.
So given that fact that we must be great communicators and also given the fact that most of us are probably lacking in some area of communication, what can we do to hone this critical soft skill to the point where we know we’re doing the job we need to be doing for our team, customer and project?
Let’s discuss by looking at the key elements of the communication responsibilities of the project manager…
First and foremost, the project manager must be effective at setting communication guidelines, protocols and expectations at the outset of the project. The two easiest ways to do this are:
Going into detail during the official project kickoff on how, when, where and by who communication on the project will happen. The kickoff session is all about setting project expectations so no better time or place to do it for communication than during that formal session.
Create an actual, documented project communication plan that builds on what was discussed during kickoff and actually provides key contact info for all stakeholders and defines communications streams. This document should also define when status meetings and other key contacts will happen. And then stick to the plan.
One of the most overlooked aspects of the communication process is listening. No PM can actually be a master communicator unless they are a very good listener. Listening is half of the communication process and if it is not done well then key information can fall through the cracks leading to misunderstandings and inefficiencies. I’ve personally had to work on this skill as I often find myself too ready to give my point of view on a topic while someone is already expressing theirs. It’s not only rude, it can be dangerous in a project management setting as important concepts may be ignored by the person who needs to hear them the most – the PM.
The obvious part of the communication process is speaking. And many times this is the only part people focus on. Being clear and concise is critical because individuals who tend to flood their communication with too much detail confuse the listeners on the other end and often fail to deliver their point accurately or effectively. I’ve been guilty of this on many occasions by going into far more detail than needed and prolonging a point beyond what is reasonable and necessary. Interest on the part of the listener and clarity on the part of myself making my own point is lost in the process which can be just as dangerous as poor listening. Be clear and concise and use only the amount of words necessary to get your point across.
Finally, that brings us to meetings. Meetings need to be useful. And they also should be consistent. By that I mean regularly scheduled and rarely canceled. Don’t take up individuals’ valuable time unnecessarily, but regularly scheduled meetings should go on even if there is little to nothing new to cover or convey. If you start to mess with static meeting days and times too much your attendance will drop fast and few people will consider it an important meeting. Just like a TV show that gets moved around the schedule too much – it will soon be canceled for good.
Also, never let meetings extend beyond the time documented as your attendees have other important work to tend to. And meetings that go on too long quickly lose their effectiveness and leave you with a bad reputation as a poor meeting manager.