Project Management

Do You Miss the “Old Way” of Communicating?

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By Conrado Morlan

In project management, communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. Most likely, you have worked hard to master your communication skills. Then all of the sudden, the way we communicate changed. The style had to adapt, evolve and amplify with the support of technology during the pandemic.

We were accustomed to more traditional ways of communicating, such as in-person meetings (with groups, or one-on-one with stakeholders), spontaneous conversations around the office, and conference calls, among others. But most of these methods were totally erased when, by necessity, we started to work remotely.

In a matter of weeks, we had to close the communication gap by learning on the fly how to use new technology tools featuring virtual rooms with a mosaic of participants, featuring screen sharing, tool chat, or instant messaging (IM). We faced the challenge of having to define new rules of communication and common ground (like having cameras on or off during the meeting, and muting your microphone if you aren’t talking).

In just a few months, we adjusted to a new way of communication: online calls instead of phone calls; recorded online meetings with automatic transcripts instead of handwritten meeting minutes typed out afterward; more IM communication instead of email communication.

For many project managers who are still remote, this continues to work well; for others who have returned to the office, they are starting to readapt to (or are missing) the “old way of communication.”

Readapting to the “way things were” won’t be an easy task. Many people have lost that sense of personal interaction, and it is becoming more difficult to bring several people together at the same time in a meeting room to discuss the project. People’s preferences have also changed, and many prefer a virtual meeting as they think that there will be no difference to a meeting’s outcome if the meeting is in-person or virtual.

Perhaps the outcome of the meeting will be no different, but what about in-person human interaction—a key element for communication? Reading non-verbal cues is becoming more difficult, a valuable element that will confirm if a “yes” is truly a yes or instead a “maybe.”

As a project manager, what has been your biggest challenge in adopting and adapting the “new way of communication” in your projects?

After a recent project progress meeting with my team, one of the senior members and I discussed the face-to-face communication challenges we have with other members. We concurred that when the person receiving the information has low retention, it results in false assumptions and a misunderstanding on the topic of discussion.

Why is this happening? If the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, why do we still have communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that summarizes their action items.

In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening—and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear, and that may result in a broken message.

That senior member of my team is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today. In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment before was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.

I asked the senior team member what the key elements of good listening skills are, based on his experience. He recommended:

  • Pay attention to the dialogue and receive the message.
  • Acknowledge the message using positive expressions, such as "Okay" or "I see."
  • Confirm the message was received by summarizing what was discussed.
  • Ask questions to the person giving information during and after the discussion.

What are the face-to-face communication challenges you have experienced with your team? Do your team members pay attention when you speak? What advantages and disadvantages do virtual meetings have?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 25, 2021 01:27 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Dear Conrad
Very interesting theme that brought to our reflection and debate
Thanks for sharing and for your opinions and tips.

Thank you, Conrad. The ongoing pandemic has made communication more critical for organizations. Lesser value is placed on face-to-face contact communication over technology intricacies that sometimes misrepresent effective organizational communication.

Thank you, Conrado for the thoughtful article. I am finding that a video meeting with document sharing or IM can be very useful in the appropriate context, but I also am finding that many people are more distracted or allow themselves to be more distracted during virtual meetings. Personally, I miss the multiple layers of contextual meaning and communications you have when you meet in person. Those are not duplicated very well in the virtual world.

Oftentimes in virtual meetings, it seems as though participation in the meeting is a secondary task for someone; they are doing other things, just happen to be attending this meeting at the same time. it's hard to tell when people are actively listening and hearing the discussion which can be frustrating. I miss the boardroom and knowing when you had people's attention and could read their facial expressions and reactions.

Thanks for highlighting this concept, Conrado. To me, nothing is better than a face-to-face conversation where you can readily identify the attention level of the participant(s) and adjust accordingly using those active listening skills outlined by your senior team member. As well, it is highly rewarding when you recognize that someone really understands what your are trying to communicate. These cues are often lost on video calls. I often wonder if the loss of this face-to-face interaction at work is a key contributor to so many people leaving the work force over the past year. The "old way" definitely had its merits!

Obrigado, Conrado pelo artigo. A pandemia nós trouxe a uma realidade que até então era restrito as salas de vídeo conferência das organizações e com a pandemia a tecnologia tornou mais eficaz a comunicação.

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