Has this ever happened to you? You’re going through your emails at work when you come across one that just rubs you the wrong way – the content itself is not the issue, but it’s how it was worded. Or, you are in a meeting where someone asks you a question in such a way that you immediately tense up? This has happened to most of us at work, or even at home, and it all has to with how we communicate.
Being able to communicate effectively is a skill, and like with any skill, some are better at it than others. However, when it comes to project management, you had better be good at it, because, according to Portny et al, “the key to successful project management is effective communication – sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 357).
In class this week, I had a very interesting assignment to illustrate the concept of effective communication. The assignment gave specific instructions, which required me to first read an email from Jane to Mark, then jot down a few thoughts about how I interpreted the message, including what I thought about the content and the tone. Next, I was supposed to listen to a voice mail from Jane to Mark, which ended up being the same exact words as in the email, and jot down my answers to the same questions as the ones asked about the email. Lastly, I watched a video that showed Jane speaking to Mark, again using the same words as in the email and voice mail. I therefore experienced the same words being communicated via email, voice mail, and face-to-face – it all was interpreted the same, right? Not at all, and that is why effective communication is an essential skill.
The content of the message in all three modes was the same – Jane was asking Mark when he would be able to provide her with a report that had data she needed to include in a report of her own. The email came across to me as casual with a slight hint of urgency. The voice mail sounded a bit more urgent to me, based on Jane stressing the word “really” twice in the message. Remember, the email had the same content as the voice mail, but the word “really” was not underlined, or in bold, which to me would have indicated a sense of urgency. In the video, Jane is standing with her arms resting on top of Mark’s cube wall as she speaks to him – same content as the email and voice mail. To me, she appears very calm and casual, based on how she is standing and delivering the message to Mark. I do not get a sense of urgency here either. To me, the voice mail came across as the modality that best conveyed the message as Jane intended, because it had the most sense of urgency.
Even before doing this assignment, I knew that effective communication is a learned skill – the assignment just helped to reinforce this point. Some of you, who have been in class with me for a while now, have heard me mention a self-leadership course that I coordinate for our staff. In the course, we learn that we all have a dominant temperament (they are based on the elements: air, fire, earth, and water), which comes across in how we act, including in our communication, and how we are perceived. We also have a shadow temperament, which are the actions/attributes that tick us off. Learning about my dominant temperament was a complete eye-opener for me, because I was finally able to piece together why I could come across as very non-emotional to some colleagues, but not to others. However, the key was learning how to communicate with the other temperaments. For example, I am an air and tend to be very matter of fact, but waters like to be more personable. I have learned to adjust my emails to include a “good morning” before I start on the content. Before, I would dive straight into what I needed to say. Long story short, being able to communicate effectively takes effort, because you have to make sure what you are trying to communicate comes across as intended.
If you think about it, PMs are the one person in a project that will have to communicate with everyone in the project audience in some way or another. Being able to communicate effectively, according to Dr. Stolovitch, “helps everyone stay on target” (Laureate Education, n.d.), which is necessary in order to successfully complete a project.
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
“The Art of Effective Communication” [Multimedia program]. Retrieved from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/2dett4d/Walden/EDUC/6145/03/mm/aoc/index.html