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
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.