Art of Communication

Communication SkillsAfter my last post on Managing Client Expectations I figured I should probably touch on Communication a little more closely. Specifically on its application in Project Management and General Management. I forewarn you though, I am going to reference the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), so let the eye rolling begin now…

The function of communication has multiple facets that need to be considered. The PMBOK goes on to capture them as:

  • Internal (within the project) and external (customer, other projects, the media, the public)
  • Formal (reports, memos, briefings) and informal (email, ad-hoc dicussions),
  • Vertical (up and down the organization) and horizontal (with peers),
  • Official (newsletters, annual report) and unofficial (off the record communications),
  • Written and oral, and
  • Verbal and non-verbal (voice inflections, body language)

I would probably expand on that list to include:

  • Virtually (through web media like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc..)

Granted, it could be argued that it falls under “external” or “informal” but I think with the growth of virtual communication via social mediums it deserves it’s own criterion. Regardless, I think this all things that have to be carefully considered when we communicate. The one I think we most probably pay the least amount of attention to is “Verbal and non-Verbal.”

Verbal and Non-Verbal

With the growth of technology, the idea of telecommuting has become more widely accepted across businesses, small to large. In that growth though, the biggest challenge I have seen and experienced is the communicating between your team (albeit it a project or business).

While some of us pay special attention to the words we use, some of us don’t. While some of us actively pay attention to the tone we use, some of us don’t. While some of pay special mind not to roll our eyes or sigh deeply, some of us don’t.

Unfortunately though, the lack of emphasis on these things is, in my opinion, crippling our ability to effectively manage. If you work in a geographically distributed environment it is even more important. Not only in how you say things or react, whether on the phone or video chat, but also in the way you write things, both in email and chat sessions.

That being said though, I think it is on receiver to recognize their own biases, especially when working remotely. Recognize that over time you build a perception of a person and that perception can lead you to believe positive or negative things about the way you receive a message. Be aware of this, it happens to us all, and check your bias at the door before you send out a flaming email about how offended or distraught you are about how you received the message.

That being said, let’s take a minute to look at a communication model.

The Communication Model

You can look it up later, but if you do a search on Google for “Communication Model” you’ll find something like 446,000,000 results. I know, intense. That being said, I’ll keep it simple and reference my good ole PMBOK again.

The biggest thing to understand in any communication is that there are always two parties, never less, well unless you are a¬†schizophrenic. That being said, it’s good to understand the fundamentals of how communication works.

  • Encode – To translate thoughts or idea into a language that is understood by others
  • Message and feedback-message – The output of encoding
  • Medium – The method use to convey the message
  • Noise – Anything that interferes with the transmission and understanding of the message
  • Decode – To translate the message back into meaningful thoughts or ideas

This is, in my opinion, the fundamentals of any communication. One that I believe we should all recognize, why? Easy, because I think we overlook a couple depending on the role we’re playing.

I believe that biggest issue we have when we’re playing the “Sender” is stuck somewhere between encoding and message. Yet, while playing the “receiver” role we stumble on the noise the most. We allow everything else to interfere with our interpretation of the message being delivered.

Wrapping it Up

I can assure you that this will not be the last time I talk about communication. I partly do it because I feel strongly about it’s importance across many different domains, not just management, but also because it is by far my weakest attribute. Taking the time to write them down in a post like this allows me to reflect on them later. I also can’t help but think that it would useful to someone else out there struggling with similar issues and finding it difficult to effectively articulate what they might be thinking.