Author: Somani, Sheilina
Date published: August 1, 2010
Journal code: PMNT
How do we obtain the best from our team members and, indeed, the wider stakeholder group? In the project context, we rely on all manner of tools and techniques, but often we can achieve far more by focusing on human behavior. Part of that comes down to simply saying exactly what we mean.
As we gain experience, we often reduce communication to technical shorthand, slang and a bunch of acronyms. This leads to lack of precision in both our intention and the message transmitted, and increases the potential for misunderstanding.
We should be asking for the action or behavior we warn in a positive manner. Instead of saying, "Don't forget to fill out the change log," try, "Remember to complete the change log." In that way, we provide supportive management through constructive, reinforcing speech. By stating something negatively, the implicit message is that the recipient is less competent.
The need for clear communications becomes even more critical when working with team members who speak a different first language. The opportunity to miscommunicate is expanded through subtle variances that are often literally lost in translation.
For exampie. I'm working with a team to further develop an international web presence. Given that the software is for a global authence, turning simple wording into elaborate phraseology is far from "user- friendly."
After extracting user specifications, the team members and I segued into a discussion about how to phrase messages for the screen and the potential for misinterpretation. For example, using "If you'd tike more information..." is quite a different message than "Please contact us for...". The first implies ambivalence; the other is more welcoming.
With the ream having discussed this philosophy, it was interesting to note the change in general language usage for die remainder of our meeting! The team became more open in its comments and also more reflective in its use of language. People started correcting themselves as they spoke.
The Complexity of Communication
Within projects, communication hurdles - heightened by limited time to interact with stakeholders - can prove more readily surmountable by attention to language. In communicating with others in the project context, we're immediately faced with multiple personalities and perspectives. As humans, we also vary our moods -from enthusiastic to indifferent - which increases the complexity of communication.
Precise communication requires a keen understanding of:
* Language capability
* Age group
* Project context
* Cultural origin
* Communication style preferences
* Learning style preferences
* Personal and business relationships
As project managers, we have a responsibility to guide, direct and facilitate project outcomes. Concise communication increases confidence and personal investment, minimizes conflict, and leads to a more rewarding experience for all stakeholders. So before you jump in with a slew of acronyms or technospeak, take a moment to think about what you really want to say.
BY SHEILINA SOMANI, FARM, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Sheilina Somani, FAPM, PMP, is the owner of U.K.-based Positively Project Management, which provides consulting, mentoring and development services.