Sunday, 17 August 2008 19:00

How Project Managers Communicate... Or Not!

Written by Donna Ulrich
It truly is your responsibility as a PM to understand, ask, answer, interpret, filter, listen – communicate - and be effective while doing it.

True communication is a dialogue, not just a monologue.

Well, that certainly sounds easy enough…. Until you add people to the scenario and then it appears like a whole lot of Yakkity Yak happens due to the many styles of communications that PMs use.

And why does this occur? Non-verbal communication carries about 55% of the message you are sending. Paralingual communications are the tone and pitch of your voice which also affect how the message is received. And blocked communications most likely occur when conflict is present.

As Sir Winston Churchill so eloquently put it: “Responsibility is the key to greatness.” and it is your responsibility to communicate and be a great PM.

Styles of PM Communication

Tells All – Knows Nothing. If you don’t know the answer, it is perfectly acceptable to indicate that. You can’t and aren’t expected to know everything about everything. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming your reputation is the ‘Undisputed Authority and Knows-It-All’ PM (that’s why you have a team – all efforts and ideas are worthy and contributions respected). You will become notorious as the ‘Tells It Like I Think It Is’ PM, followed around by your trusty ‘What He Really Meant To Say’ Business Analyst. Don’t attempt to communicate what you don’t know.

Always Has The Last Word. That would make you a dictionary, not a communicator. Communication is about taking turns – talk, listen, talk, listen (there is a rhythm to this). You can complete the cycle by asking if everyone is clear on the information. But you don’t need to ensure that your infinite words of wisdom and commands are the last sound that everyone hears. Often a simple ‘thank-you’ is the most appreciated communication closer.

Because I Said So. If you speak to a team member (or your entire team!) in the same manner that you speak to a small child, then you aren’t a successful communicator. Respect is the fundamental component here. Speak with authority, but do not belittle, insult, or patronize your colleagues or team. They are adults and professionals. If you treat them with respect, you will reap greater results. No one wants to work for the strict disciplinarian who commands and demands. Volume does not solve problems nor does it make others suddenly understand a concept. Raising your mighty voice does not create an enthusiastic team.

Hostage Negotiator. Have you thought about a career change? This style involves convincing people on a whole new level how to accomplish work in a worst-case scenario situation. I’ve known a few projects that might have benefited from this role, but not too many. However, since we are all in PM mode, let’s consider that approach. Patience is the crucial element. Negotiating is a skill. Set your objectives. Thoughtfully consider your responses. You may have to modify your techniques to have peaceful results unless you’re planning to have the people you are addressing in handcuffs at the end of the dialogue!

One More Time (with feeling!). And in your role as PM, regardless of how well you think you have explained, rephrased, clarified, illustrated, illuminated, used various hand gestures and facial expressions to have the team understand your topic, there may still be one person who really doesn’t get it. You observe the glazed eyes and blank stare. Our backgrounds, cultures, language, and skills provide a frame of reference. Be conscious of improper phrases that may not translate. Perhaps you can sustain some form of information flow with your teenager and their clichés and retro-phrases, but in a work environment, you may be misinterpreted and not as hip as you assume you are. And then sometimes, you’ll just need to go over it all again - one more time….!

Let’s Make a Deal. Game show host or seasoned PM? I doubt that you can offer a brand new Victory Red Solstice behind door #2 as an incentive for being a team member on your project. So, what is your deal and how will you communicate it? Work together, listen carefully, respect your differences and skills, show support, and celebrate successes. Strike up a cooperative environment with your team.

I Did It…. (cue music…) Myyyyy Wayyyyy! And then there is the communication plan which includes the verbal and narrative details associated with your project. It will indicate how the management and control of the what, why, who, when and how of communication is put into place. Throughout your PM career, you will need to communicate and be the recipient of communications. Develop your own professional style that will achieve results.

And when reading communications, beware of the fine print at the end.

And this is the fine print…. and …The End….


Donna M. Ulrich, PMP (member of PMI) has over 25 years of project management and consultant (owner of Cougar Management Consulting Corporation) experience within the education, nuclear, telecommunications, IT, service/utilities, financial and healthcare industries. When not managing projects or writing articles, Donna enjoys kayaking, reading, movies, camping and travelling. The highest priority on her list of non-project related work is being with her family (Roland, Samantha and Lewis). Donna can be reached at dulrich@sympatico.ca

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