Communicating Effectively

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.

J

References

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

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8 thoughts on “Communicating Effectively

  1. Jennifer Bay,
    Tone in an e-mail is everything as you pointed out.

    Of the three communication styles we reviewed this week, I prefer the one on one conversation. It shows me the true concern of the individual and I may have truly missed the deadline by forgetting to post it or write it down on my calendar. I know this has happened real world. My perspective, if it has to be an email communication, other forms of communication have been exhausted and you did not get results you anticipated. The e-mail is a for ever copy of the missed deadline and can then be used later for review of your meeting deadlines. I knee jerk when I receive this type of communication and at once this item becomes my priority for completion.

    Gary Jechorek

  2. Jennifer, your blog mentions a factor that came to my mind in Jane’s approach to Mark. Urgency, as you mention, is a consideration especially in relation to time management for the purpose of goal satisfaction. However, I subscribe to Covey’s approach taking importance into consideration. Deadline driven projects are one of those activities that qualify as high urgency and high importance as noted in the matrix I found at http://www.taskcracker.com/stephen-covey-time-management-method-outlook-productivity/. Also, as you mention, lingering in the background is adage about poor planning on one’s part falls short of an emergency on another’s part.

    Steve

  3. Jennifer,
    Very interesting to compare temperaments to a communication style. I have done colors, Myers Briggs, but never something like comparing it to the world’s elements. If I understood your blog correctly, you thought that the voicemail gave the best sense of urgency which most likely meant that you chose that one to get the point across the best. I actually chose the opposite. If someone came over to talk to me and took time out of their day to tell me how urgent it was to get my piece done, to me that was the most sense of urgency. I actually talked about that in my post as well as the tonality and body language behind it. With your findings that you are air and how to deal with others that are opposite as you like water, I wonder if that had a play into your decision about the voicemail being the most sense of urgency. Maybe it should depend on what the other person is to really make the point you were intended to make.

    Katie

    • Katie,
      The course I took is through the Ken Blanchard Companies, and the temperaments is based on the work by Jim Harden and Brad Dude. Their website give you a pretty good explanation on the temperaments (http://www.whatmakesyoutickandwhatticksyouoff.com/).
      I don’t know if I interpreted that the voice mail was more urgent than the face-to-face because of my temperament. I just thought that her delivery was way too calm and casual – it did not match the urgency of her words.
      Thanks,
      J

  4. Jennifer
    I loved your post! It is so funny to me how every blog post I read seems to have a different appreciation for the content in three different modalities. I definitely think tone can be very hard to read in an email. My husband tells me all the time that I come off the wrong way in email. He has to edit my emails before I send them (to my daughter’s teacher for example) because I come off as “pushy” or “rude” (according to my husband) which is certainly not my intent. I will gladly admit that he is much better with words than I am as he is in the business of sales. In the class example I found the face to face communication best conveyed the true meaning of the message. I can understand everyone else’s point of view though who chose either the email or the voicemail. Again, it just baffles me how differently we all think and interpreted it! Thanks!
    Lauren

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I agree with you that being able to communicate effectively is a skill. The tone of an email is can be easily misunderstood. This happens at work quite often. An email along with some type of verbal communication (voice or face to face) is usually the most effective. However, if this is not possible, written communication is more effective when it is engaging and memorable. In this assignment, I did not get the sense of urgency in the email communication either. I agree that bold fonts, underlining, as well as the use of color contrast, color combinations, upper and lowercase is important when trying to convey a clear message to the audience.

  6. Hi Jenny,
    Great post.
    However, while I agree that the face to face lacked a sense of urgency and that the art of effective communication is key to effective PM. I’m not quite sure I agree that the voice-mail was most effective. But, like Lauren says. it’s so funny how we all have different perceptions about which mode is the most effective.
    Like you said, though, I don’t think Jane’s tonal, body or facial expression conveyed any sense of urgency, although she spoke of her need for Mark’s stuff to meet the deadline. She appeared too very casual for me to think “urgent!” She didn’t even frown or act anxious or frenzied in any way; didn’t even stress the “Please, please, please” or “help me” or “it’s urgent”; flinging hands or the likes.
    Another thing; I find your earth elements communication relationships are interesting. Maybe I’ll check that link you provide to learn more.
    About your email message scenario i had experience with a lawyer who was annoyed that I used `upper case in words ot used words that have specific connotations in legal circles. I’m reluctant to email him since I think he’s edgy about things I take for granted.
    Anyway, I think to cater for the ‘funny’ difference in people’s perception or preference of communication modality, I suggest the use of using a mixed variety of transmission modes, I think it’s best that PMs use a variety of communication means to ensure people receive the messages correctly and timely.
    What do you say?

    Colleague

  7. Jennifer
    I think voice-mail and and the email were the best approaches are the best means of communication.
    The Face-to-Face communication was a little bit under comfortable. There was some body language that was involved in communicating this narrative that wasn’t felt in the email and voicemail. In this particular scenario, I do think all of them stressed some type of urgency but the degree of urgency was evident in tone of voice, body language, and words upon communicating the messages. It is truly interesting how different modes of communication present different interpretations.

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