What we have here is a failure to communicate!

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What we have here is a failure to communicate!

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During a recent poll of "What is the main reason that projects fail?", poor communication seems to be a leading culprit. But what is good communication, and what techniques and tricks can the PM employ to help ensure it? I spent many years in the technical and business communication business, but I am always surprised at how easy it is to NOT communicate and how often we get it wrong. But I'll give this question a shot anyway.

There are so many forms of communication, speaking, conversing (not the same as speaking), writing, plus all the forms of digital communication. Here is my list of characteristics of good communication.

  • Be a good listener - the most important skill required in communication
  • Be aware of body language
  • Provide proper feedback
  • Know your audience, whether it's one person or many
  • Provide understanding, empathy
  • Make sure your message is clear and concise
  • Just the facts, maam, just the facts - stick to the facts
  • Ask for clarification when necessary - often
  • Praise when appropriate
  • Be positive in your communication


Some tips
Beware of email. It's one of most poorly used forms of communication and studies have confirmed this. Email is best used as a confirmation and documentation tool. Don't try to communicate important or complicated information solely through email. Don't use email for critical and time sensitive communication. Treat email like you would a written letter. If you have to use email for more than this, make sure it is well written, clearly articulates your message, and is complete. Don't just dash something off. Have it proof read, just like you would a written document. Remember email can be used in a court of law.

Face to face communication is still the purest and best form of communication. Use it whenever possible. There was a time when Management By Walking Around was actually taught in management school. MBWA is still highly effective so use it when possible. If you can't go to the person, use video conferencing or use a phone. Talking with someone is usually more effective than email or written communication. You can use email as a follow up communication, restating what you heard in your conversation.

Don't talk to people. Talk with them. Communication is not a one-way street. and be respectful of their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Recognize that there is value in them. Always be open to and ask for input from others. Someone might save your bacon.

Communication is a crucial skill for anyone, including project managers. Unfortunately, it is rarely taught anymore, either in school or in business. Both oral and written communication has become an afterthought in both our educational system as well as in business.

Posted on: April 25, 2013 09:39 AM | Permalink

Comments (20)

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I agree with Harlan that the points he has highlighted are important and worth focusing on, but what I do not agree with him is that communication is not being taught anywhere. I see communication being a subject long before project management was formally introduced a s a subject to be taught. Project Management as a formal structured branch of knowledge is rather newer than communication management. The only problem is that communications was not being given enough importance while project management was being taught to project managers. Now is the time that knowledge areas like communications management, stakeholder management and integration management are being necessarily highlighted.

Rightly said. Liked the concept of 'Managent by Walking Around'. It's my favorite way of managing my team although didn't know this as a Management style before reading through this article.

"Great article , thanks for sharing! "

Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is a great technique and the main take-away for me from this posting. Well said!

Suhail Iqbal, thank you for your comment. Your points are well taken and appreciated. I was speaking of my experiences in the US

It is true that at one time, communication was a required class in most business colleges in the US and still is in many schools. But generally, it is a single 3 or 4 semester hour course and that is usually all that is required. In fact, I teach technical writing. However, communication is much more than writing.

How many schools or training programs teach public speaking or oral communication as I have described it in this article? Few US corporations spend much money or time in any training and almost all of that is spent on "hard" skills. As a young man undergoing management training, I had to participate in many scenario based training activities focused on oral communication skills. In the last 15 or so years, I haven''t seen any such training programs.

We most also be aware that written communication (including email) is the least effective channel of communication. This is not anecdotal but rather it has been verified time and again through much research.

I work as a consultant and as such I have the opportunity to observe the activity of many companies. My observations are that writing skills of many employees, including managers, are not good and speaking/listening skills are worse. Organizations would do themselves a great favor if they provided formal training in the skill of communication.

Harlan, I fully agree with you that communications skills in leaders and managers are grossly lacking and there is a dire need to improve. Despite the fact it had been taught for time immemorial, the need for learning and teaching these skills is ever increasing and becoming more and more vital in nature. Yes, we need to be more creative and must introduce more effective ways to teach soft kills to managers.

Nice article. Thanks for sharing!

The use of email has become overwhelmed. Sometimes you have people to about 2 meters, but prefer to send emails with remaining evidence. Now one receives more than 1,000 emails a day that half are useless. All placed him with a copy to the other.

Network:4574



Nice post. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

Thanks for these insightful comments. I have question - How can you use effective communication to repair broken relationships with stakeholders?

MBWA is really highly effective.

Very valid points shared in the article. MBWA is becoming more challenging with virtual teams. Great question by Sean.

Very Informative. Thank you.

Nice post. I agree with it specially because I see that every we are becoming e-mail dependent but "not communicating" through it!

Love that song!

Useful tips, thank you

Very on point, nothing beats face to face communication. Thanks for sharing.

Beautiful post,, so good to read and learn something, thank you Harlan for such a beautiful article :)

Can't emphasize more! That's why 80 to 90% of a PM's job is all about communication.

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