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
· 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.