Projects succeed, meet
timelines and remain within budgets, through your relationships with your
stakeholders, team members, and peers. You build and manage relationships by
communicating. Master the art of communicating effectively with different people
and you are well on the way to project success.
This is easier said than
done. Humans act inconsistently and don't respond to the same communication in
the same way. We assign different meanings to words and the intent behind the
words. For example, I worked on a project where the project plan was clearly the
script for a crises management reality show. From what I could tell, there was
about three months of work scheduled to take place in the following three weeks.
I assessed the plan and reported "This is a very aggressive timeline."
Translated, it means "You have got to be kidding - there is no way this plan
The resource manager, who
thrives in crisis management mode, heard "This project will be fun as we do
stretch ourselves and achieve aggressive timelines."
The same words have
different meaning to different people, depending on your frame of reference and
(On a side note, the
project manager revised and extended the timeline shortly after this
If you have worked with people
for longer than ten minutes, then you know all about miscommunication. "I said
x, you heard y." The question is, as a project leader, how do you overcome the
communication challenges and ensure that the message is conveyed correctly?
People generally fall into three
categories of communication preferences.
1. "Tell me what you need, let's
move." They want just enough information to make a decision, and then want to
move onto the next thing.
2. "Give me all the specifics,
let me absorb it, then we can discuss and decide." (I fall into the
3. "What is the impact to people
involved?" This category is primarily concerned with their own feelings, and the
feelings of others. They typically don't want to offend anyone.
We all fall somewhat into all
three categories. However, we prefer to receive and send communications in one
How can you use this information,
as you manage projects? People don't have signs on their foreheads stating "I
want action / specifics / human impact". Glad you asked the question, because
the answer is below.
1. Pay attention to the words
that your project sponsor and team members use most frequently. Do they say "I
do" or "I think" or "I feel"? These words help you to categorize each person on
your project into one of the three categories above, in the sequence above.
2. Pay attention to the style of
speaking and writing. Is it "Short and action oriented" or "Deep dive into data
and specifics" or "Nurturing and caring"? Again, this helps you to categorize
the person into one of the three categories above in the sequence listed.
Now, pay attention to your own
communications. Do you speak in terms of short directives, focus on the details
and specifics, or concern yourself with the impact to other people when
decisions are made? It is critical to categorize yourself first, before
Remember: These categories above
are simply a means to help you improve your communications. Don't go off the
deep end to become an amateur psychologist and assign nonsensical attributes to
people based on what you observe. "Joe said the word 'think' a lot, therefore he
is a deep thinker, must be a brilliant scientist, and drags his heels on
Now that you know your own
preferred communication style and have formed an idea of the preferred
communication styles of people that you frequently interact with, you can use
this information to bridge communication style differences. In other words,
tailor your communications to speak in the other person's language.
For example, my preferred
communication style is to gather the facts, assess them and then take a
decision. I follow this style when communicating with people in category two
above. When I communicate with people in category one and three, I tailor my
communications to their style.
For category one, I lead with the
action-oriented portion of the communication. "What do I need to tell you, what
decision do I need from you, when do I need it?" Details are available, on
For category three, I lead with
the human side of the communication. "Hello Jane, Project XYZ is developing a
new system to help people become self-reliant. Your contribution will assist 397
people to help themselves. I need you to sign the project charter by June 1, in
order for us to help these clients."
It sounds simple. The theory
is easy enough. It takes some work and thought on your part. You need to listen
carefully to the words people use to communicate and consciously try to place
people into one of the three categories above. Don't worry if anyone doesn't fit
neatly into a category. We all span multiple categories, although some of us
fall more into one category than the others.
When you communicate to people
that you identified fit into a category, tailor your communication to help them
get the message, the first time around. Make it easy for them to understand what
you are saying and your communication will improve.