Let’s Talk: How to Communicate Better at Work

When about ⅓ of all projects fail due to poor communication, how do we set about facilitating successful communication strategies for project success?

Communication is an essential process in every aspect of life. Human beings naturally, and constantly, communicate, whether we are articulating consciously, or clarifying our thoughts subconsciously through our body language, exchanging information is as natural a process to us as breathing. However, just because it is something that we do every day, doesn’t mean we’re necessarily good at it. In this case, practice doesn’t always make perfect.

At its root, the word comes from the Latin communis, a process to establish a space of understanding, or common ground, between point A and point B. It’s the necessary procedure for any transaction between two or more people, from buying your lunch to closing that final sale.

Communication is at the nexus of all daily operations, especially within your workplace, no matter your level of seniority. Developing a strong suite of verbal and nonverbal communicative skills is essential to not only excel at your job, but progress further up the career ladder. But, what does it take to be a good communicator?

Good communication is as much about who you’re trying to communicate with, as with what you’re trying to say. You should never take for granted that the recipient will interpret your message the exact same way as you intended it. Taking into account variables like different realities, the space the communication takes place in and the potential perceived meaning – in a word, empathy – is a vital practice to make sure you’re saying exactly what you need to.

Ultimately, clarity is the goal of any good communicative interaction. To ensure that you are articulating your message clearly, concisely and that it is being received equally so.

Let’s focus in on an industry that would be wholly impossible without communication, project management. Each project creates complex layers of details, requirements and decisions split over multiple people, the success of every project is dependent on the efficacy of its communication network. Without a set structure of reportage procedures, check ins and the ability to unify a project team under a clearly articulated set of responsibilities, roles and an ultimate project goal over the project’s lifespan, it’s unlikely that the project will succeed. Especially across large scale projects where more agile communication structures are required. Where each decision affects a subsequent action and so on, each requiring the team to be re-briefed, or requesting their input.

Studies have found that 90% of a project manager’s time is spent communicating what needs to be done between team members, stakeholders and any other body involved in the performance of the project. Which is what makes it so surprising when you realise that the majority of projects that fail, fail from a breakdown in communication.

But if project managers are spending so much time communicating, why are their projects failing?

Chances are, it’s because they aren’t communicating efficiently.

It’s important to not just know what makes a good communicator but how you can action that knowledge and apply those strategies to your everyday practice.

Since we talked earlier in terms of project management, let’s see how you can develop your communication skills, using these essential project management techniques.

1.    Manage Expectations

When a project manager kicks off a project, they need to ensure that their team and stakeholders are all unified under the same project goals and objectives, and that each knows what is expected of them throughout the course of the project – and for them to understand what the team expects of them as well.

Managing expectations is a key process for any team, or even individual worker, as it is extremely rare that you will be completing a task in isolation. Whether it is with coworkers, a boss, or a client, honestly communicating how and what you can deliver results is important to develop clear schedules, deadline dates and deliverables. You want everyone to be on the same page as yourself in terms of what you can and cannot give to the task.

More than that, managing expectations can also be as much about setting communication procedures as anything else, project managers often set out set processes through which to communicate vital project information, so none get’s lost in transit or ends up with the wrong person.

Honesty is important, before you begin any task, write a list of questions that you’d like yourself and your team to answer that will help to align your expectations, such as, “what does success look like to us?”

2.    Always Discuss Deliverables

Ticking off a task list is easy to do in isolation, but actively checking in with your team’s progress on your deliverables and reviewing your progress as a collective can build a stronger result. A deliverable is a kitschy project management term for a tangible service or product that comes as a result of a developmental process. Essentially a deliverable is your end goals, your targets.

Good project managers, when developing the timeline of their project, schedule in regular meetings with their team to discuss and critique their plans to hit their targets, keeping your team members accountable for their decisions and workload throughout the course of the project. Keeping results at the forefront through communication, across the span of your project or job, ensures that every member of your team is working towards a common goal and at a similar pace.

3.    Regular Updates

In project management, specifically in certain project management methodologies like Agile, regular status meetings are necessary for the success of the project. Copying their structure and implementing a routine where you and your colleagues, managers or clients meet regularly to discuss progress or potential risks to your routine will enable you to establish a clear view of the progress of the task. Feeding into our original point about properly managing expectations.

Regularly updating your team members, or colleagues, on an important task sets up an important communicative structure that will build trust, and teamwork. It let’s your co-workers know that you’re a team player and that you care, not just about your own workload, but about theirs too. Meaning that they’ll be more open with you in return, resulting in more collaboration and, with more heads being better than one, greater success.

4.    Ask Questions

The key focus point of communication is exchange. It isn’t just about being able to articulate what you want to say, but understanding how that translates and also, listening to what the other person says.

Being a project manager means being able to understand the processes and people in your team, and a part of that is being receptive to what your team has to say. Working with people means that you’ll be working within a team of people with different perspectives, thought processes and often, ideas. If one of your team members comes up with a new way of spinning a task or strategy, it could be hugely beneficial to listen, and importantly, to understand it.

Communication is vital to being able to understand the people and ideas around you, and the more you understand, the better you’ll be able to work alongside your peers, within your project and, if you are in a management position, to advocate to clients or plan for future projects.

The old adage of no question is a bad question may not be an absolute truth, but you should never be afraid to ask regardless.

David Baker

David Baker

David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with Prince 2 Training. He has been working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum, and Lean Six Sigma. You can connect with David on LinkedIn.

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