What Project Teams Can Learn About Communication from Aviation (3 of 3)

Principles and techniques to enhance communication (Continued…)

Establish a common context

It has been my experience that my wife makes a statement that is related to a new topic when I still think we are talking about the preceding topic. We are not talking about the same thing (we have not established the same context) which results in a failure to properly communicate, sometimes humorously so. We should establish a common context by always making sure the following questions are answered in every communication, when applicable:

  • What is the object, purpose, and desired result of the communication?
  • When should it happen (immediately, anticipate)?
  • How should it happen (method)?
  • Where should it happen?

For example, instead of communicating that we do not like how the costs are generated in the new financial system, we should communicate our purpose (the cost formula should be changed), the specific screen, function, and formula we are speaking about (the monthly labor cost formula in the labor module), when the change should occur (in the next development cycle), and so on.

Don’t assume that everyone has the same context as you do. That is how we get in trouble. Be specific and make sure that all of these questions are clearly answered in every communication.

Learn to time communications appropriately

The timing of a communication is almost as important as the substance of the communication. Communications that require effort or action on the part of the recipient should be communicated as early as possible so that there is adequate time to prepare and perform the resulting action. If a pilot will need to make a diversion because of weather or low fuel, they need to alert the controller early so the controller has the time to work out the proper clearance. They should not wait until it becomes an emergency.

Similarly, important communications should not be made when the recipient is distracted or experiencing high workload pressure (unless the communication is immediately relevant). Otherwise you run the risk of the communication being disrupted or lost.

Confirm communications when in doubt

A pilot may create a safety issue if they do not clarify an instruction they can’t clearly remember, and end up flying at the wrong altitude. We all have memory lapses and similar human conditions. We need to confirm communications when in doubt to prevent mistakes and negative consequences. Hope is not a strategy.

Making a change

Many of today’s project teams are in need of a fresh perspective on enhancing communication. Other disciplines such as aviation have already done their homework on human communication and can provide effective lessons that can be applied to the project management team environment.

It is important to understand the types and causes of poor communication and the need to put in place a proactive, intentional approach to improving the communication culture. Whether we are communicating with team members, management, stakeholders, or colleagues, the reward for a culture of good communication is to eliminate a lot of headaches, improve the likelihood of successful project outcomes, and to create an enjoyable team environment.

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Mark Kenny

Mark Kenny is a project management practitioner, business owner, and aviation enthusiast. Mr. Kenny has spent over 16 years working in various capacities in the project management field. He has studied and written on lessons learned in other team disciplines, such as aviation cockpits. Mr. Kenny is currently the President of Hippo Solutions which helps make project management teams better. His team at home includes his wife and four children.