Thursday, January 24, 2013

Communication - A Must for the Project Manager

Buzzword Bingo: Communication
You have said it, you have written it down, you have sent it on e-mail and posted it on the team’s web page; but, have you communicated it? Did the receivers perceive the meaning of what you are trying to convey? Were they in a position to understand it? Did it promote an attitude of positive response?  I looked up the word communication in our text’s glossary section and it says: “Sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008).

Up until its interpretation, communication is simply information; which according to Gillard and Johansen, 2003, is simply existing, static and lifeless, waiting to be interpreted and for meaning to be added to it.  Technology makes it possible to make information available through multiple means; sometimes leading project managers down equivocated path of thinking that once information has been made available it has been communicated.  Well, think again; we haven’t until the receiver has understood it, interpreted it and acted in a way which supports and advances the project.

The question then becomes, how do we effectively share the right message with the right people at the right time? I am not sure there is a single, all encompassing answer for this question.  The minute you talk about a message being perceived or interpreted you know things are complicated; as each human has the ability to perceive messages according to their own internal processes, experiences and environments in which they exist.  Having said that, here is suggestion number one: As you are communicating, keep in mind the audience, their experiences and the environment within which you are communicating.  “A proactive communicator is cognizant of environmental influences, recognizes each as an enhancer or an inhibitor, and makes proactive decisions that shape the environment impact rather than decisions that are merely reactive” (Gillard & Johansen, 2003 P.26).

The message needs to be transformed into words.  A decision needs to be made on tone, organization, style, medium, purpose and receiver’s possible reaction.  Keeping these in mind, will help the communicator determine the way in which their message will generate the desired result.   The appropriate message will take into account the receiver’s knowledge of the situation, probable attitude, general educational level, job-specific educational level, age and gender (Gillard & Johansen, 2003).

Communication throughout a project is not a onetime event. Would you agree that communication effectiveness can be measured based on the feedback it receives? I think that the wise PM, constantly gages feedback; verbal, non-verbal, attitudinal or written in order to measure the effectiveness of his/her communication and how it needs to be adjusted going forward.  

Going back to perception and interpretation, Gillard and Jhansen, 2003, mention the following barriers to be kept in mind as we embark in the communication process:

·         Word interpretation

·         Perceptions of reality

·         Attitudes and opinions

·         Nervousness

·         Emotional distractions

·         Fatigue or Illness

·         Cultural and Social Backgrounds

·         Education level

·         Gender Related

·         Leadership style and personality

 The effective communicator will recognize the above barriers and be on a constant quest to break through them.  In his video, Dr. Stolovish says that Project Managers are diplomats, not technicians.  I particularly like this thought, as it denotes the fact that not everything about the pm’s job can be learned from a project management system.  The human element; particularly along the lines of communications can make or break the career of such individual.

Now, let’s talk about my perception of the message in this week’s exercise.  I would categorize the overall message as a polite, direct request; s it has elements of both.  I think that the e-mail was perfect.  It started with empathy for the receiver’s lack of compliance, it went on to clearly state what was required and the consequences for non-compliance, asked for specific compliance date, offered an alternative solution which might make it easier for the receiver to comply and ended with an appreciation statement. 

The voicemail message, while containing the same information, was not as positively received.  Voicemail is a bit more personal than e-mail; meaning that I expected a friendlier voice and salutation: Hi Mark, this is Jane.  I know you’ve been busy ……...  Just the fact that she did not introduce herself gave me a more negative impression in this communication. 

The personal communication was the worst.  I pictured myself coming out of an all day meeting, trying to prioritize what I am going to do first, answering voicemails, e-mail, etc. and this person standing over my cubicle rambling on about how it is my fault that she is going to be late submitting her report.  There was no two way interaction; which I would expect in a face to face conversation.  My perception of that message was: I know you are busy, but I really don’t care and you better get to my stuff first.

Yes, it is all in the interpretation.  PM’s are diplomats who make their living convincing others, who have no direct reporting relationships to them, to do what they want them to do.  Methodology and reports provide the framework for doing that; but, at the end of the day communication abilities will dictate their success.


Gillard, S., & Johansen, J. (2004). Project management communication: a systems approach. Journal of Information Science, 30(1), 23-29.

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.

Stolovich, H. (2012). Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from tab group id = 2 18;url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_2097260_1%26url%3D


  1. Jorge, I like your points about the need to consider the audience when communicating, and the need to constantly evaluate feedback to determine whether the message has been understood. It has been suggested that communication is about what they hear, not what you say.

    In this week’s video resources, Budrovich’s (n.d.) also recommends that the project manager should tailor his/her communication strategy to suit the needs of different stakeholders because the personality and preference of each stakeholder is different.

    Budrovich, . (Walden University). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: strategies for working with stakeholders. [DVD].

    Web sites visited

  2. Hi Jorge,

    Prior to reading your blog post this week, I went over this week’s exercise several times. I had assumed that the more personal the communication method was, the better it would be received. Of course, as you describe above, that is not always the case. I was struck by the following statistic, “According to a 2008 ComputerWorld Yahoo Hot Jobs survey of young professional employees, two-thirds of respondents selected in-person conversations with their co-workers as their preferred communication method” (as quoted in Pollack, 2009). Yet, like you, I preferred the email form of communication for this request. Simple, straightforward, polite and genuine, the request worked best for me in email form. I suppose if the request was of a serious nature, or/and complicated to explain, a face-to-face dialogue would be best. Still, the face-to-face soliloquy can hardly be described as a conversation.

    Thank you for sharing the barriers to communication from Gillard and Johansen (2004) as it serves to highlight the myriad of things that could prevent your message from getting across. Just the other day, I was sitting in a professional development seminar, which I really enjoyed. At the end of the day, the facilitator asked us to work in groups and reach consensus. By that time, I was exhausted and distracted by news that my current Head of School would not be joining us for the following year. I could not make head or tales of the point of our discussions, so when the facilitator asked us to share our findings, unusual for me, I had nothing to say. I was shocked when one of my peers spoke for a few minutes on the many things we had discussed as a group, what it all meant and how it affected all of us. Many of the things were things that I had brought to the discussion but was unable to connect with anything else. I thought about this when I read your post and realized that my ability to communicate effectively that day had been affected by various temporary barriers. It is important to look for these cues in those we are trying to communicate with and try different methods, and perhaps at different times.

    Thank you for your post!


    Gillard, S., & Johansen, J. (2004). Project management communication: a systems approach. Journal of Information Science, 30(1), 23-29.

    Pollack, L. (2009). ABC News. The best way to communicate in the workplace. Retrieved from

  3. Hi Jorge, I really appreciated your breakdown of the barriers to be kept in mind as we consider the communication process. As project managers, we do need to remain mindful of the host of factors that color our perception of communicated messages. When we do this, we begin to grasp the importance of tailoring our communication strategies to fit the specific needs of each team member and stakeholder (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) to ensure that the message we intended to convey is the one that is received.


    Laureate Education, Inc. (n.d.). Practitioner Voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders. [Video]. Retrieved on January 23, 2013, at [Walden University Student Portal].