Being an effective communicator is one of the most important responsibilities of a project manager. But what does it mean to be an effective communicator and how can you tell if you are one of them? Let’s look at seven telltale signs.
1. Provide regular and truthful updates about project progress
In a project management context, a good communicator is someone who keeps their clients and stakeholders updated and who is proactively informing them about achievements, risks and issues before they hear about it from someone else.
You don’t want your clients and stakeholders to worry unnecessarily because they haven’t heard from you. Instead you want to establish a regular communication pattern so that they’re never left guessing.
One of the simplest ways to do that is to have regular steer com meetings, one-2-one’s or to send out a weekly status report, which is a truthful representation of what’s really going on in the project.
Include an overview of key achievements, items for escalation and the top ten risks and issues with mitigating actions and owners.
The key words here are truthful and regular. They are essential aspects for effective project communication.
2. You speak to your stakeholders in person about risks and issues
Status reports and written information is great for routine updates or for providing more detail, but should never be the only way you communicate.
New risks and issues must be communicated in person and as soon as you have meaningful information to share.
If your stakeholder is located in the same building as you, go and see them. If they are in another location, call them.
When you speak to someone in person you are able to much better control the conversation and explain the issue in more detail. When you communicate in writing you can’t see the person’s reaction and you can’t properly convey to them that you are in control of the situation.
3. You are fully present and listen during conversations
One of the biggest gifts you can give someone is your time and attention.
We all like to be listened to and we find it very gratifying when someone understands us. But the only way in which we can truly understand someone is by being present and fully listening to the person we are communicating with.
As Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand before being understood”. If we don’t do that we run the risk of making assumptions and believing that we know the answer before having taken the time to even understand the issue.
Fully listening to someone is about asking open questions and giving people sufficient time to express their views without interrupting them. It’s about putting your tongue on pause when you don’t need it and being okay with silence.
Trust that the appropriate answer will come once you have fully listened to the other person. The most beautiful conversations are those where two people fully listening to each other and jointly come up with an answer rather than just one person desperately trying to fix a problem.
4. You adapt your approach to the recipients communication style
Because everyone is different and everyone has their own preferences for how they want to be communicated with, you need to tailor you approach accordingly.
Some people would like you to go and see them in person or call them whereas others would like you to put the detail in an email.
Poor communicators use the same approach with everyone whereas good communicators take a step back and assess how to best get their message across. They communicate with a high level of awareness.
One of the most powerful things you can do as a project manager is to ask your most important stakeholders how they would like you to communicate and escalate to them and then abide by it.
5. You write emails clearly without too few or too many words
Effective communicators know how to use email and how not to use it.
Email is great for short messages and for sending facts and detailed information at the back of a conversation you have had. When you do use email, be clear about your purpose, your requests, actions and next steps. This will help ensure that you don’t end up ping ponging emails back and forth because not enough clarity was present the first time around.
Email however is not a good medium to use in personal or sensitive situations when for example you are going to convey a difficult message.
You may at times be tempted to use email in such situations because it helps you to not confront the person directly, but it could make matters worse.
Email doesn’t allow for a true dialogue or for you to watch the other person’s reaction. Sensitive conversations must be conducted in person so that you can adjust your message, answer questions and reassure the person there and then.
6. You manage your emotions when you communicate
If a person says or does something that surprises you, upsets you or angers you, it is wise to not fully share the impact with the other person unless it serves a clear purpose.
It’s rarely an advantage to storm out of a business meeting or to send an angry email because someone offended you. In most cases it’s best to stay calm and professional and take time out to consider your response.
Many of us easily get triggered or angered by other people and we instinctively react to them. The trick however is to slow down your response and consciously choose your reaction rather than responding in an unconscious way.
It can take a while to master, but when you do, not only will you come across as calm and measured, you will also become a better communicator because you have freed yourself from impulsive reactions. This is a great way to set a good example for others.
7. You clearly communicate the options and impact of a change
We all know that projects are subject to issues and change requests and that it’s an art to navigate these situations well.
As an effective communicator you strive to provide your recipients with a number of options for resolving an issue as well as the impact of each option.
Your stakeholders don’t want problems presented to them. They want solutions.
Presenting three options to an issue with a clear impact of each option can be a great way to approach such a conversation. For example: our supplier is not going to be able to deliver the components on the expected date which means that we are going to be late starting and finishing module three. We can either do nothing and accept that our completion date will be 30 days delayed.
The second option is to find another supplier, which will require a significant amount of effort on our part and is likely to detract us from doing actual project work.
The third option is to change the design so that we don’t have to use the component at all. Although this won’t affect the core functionality, it will have a negatively impact on the overall user experience. My recommendation would be to try to find another supplier in the next 5 days. If we are not successful we accept that the completion of our product will be delivered with a 30-day delay.
The ultimate test of how good a communicator you are is how people respond to you.
If people regularly let you know that they find your messages clear and that they enjoy interacting and communicating with you then you are probably a good communicator.
If you don’t get this kind of feedback it may suggest that you need to become a more effective and conscious communicator.