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Mastering Project Management Communications

By: Anthony Mersino, PMP, PMI-ACP

Undoubtedly project managers need to be great communicators. This is one of the most important skills that a PM should possess. It is hard to imagine a successful PM who is not a good communicator. However, not everyone appreciates the need for PMs to be great communicators. 

The reality is that for most PMs, a big part of the job is communications. That may take the form of walking around and talking with team members or stakeholders. It may also mean sitting in lots of meetings. That is communications. Communications can also include talking on the telephone, writing emails and instant messages, preparing for meetings, creating and delivering brief-ings, and generating status reports.
If you want to be appreciated for the quality of your communica-tions as a PM, consider the following steps: :
• Determine your objective
• Understand your own emotions
• Choose an appropriate time, place, and mode
• Approach others with empathy
• Listen and respond to the emotions of others, and not only to the content of what they say
• Share your own emotions when appropriate, being as open and honest as possible
• Check for understanding and reactions

Determine Your Objective. Determine your objective means to understand the point of the communications. Some examples of communication objectives include:
• Recognizing the work of others
• Encouraging or motivating team members to work harder
• Providing constructive feedback to encourage someone to change their behavior

The key is to be clear about our objectives up front. If we don’t set realistic objectives before we communicate, we are not likely to be clear, concise, and consistent and probably won’t achieve much.

Understand Your Own Emotions. Understanding our own emotions means we are aware of our emotions or self-aware. This is a necessary first step for good communications. If we are unaware, we won’t be able to accurately communicate with others on an emotional level. Our own emotional state will leak out in undesired ways, or we will misrepresent how we feel to others.

Choose an Appropriate Time, Place, and Mode. It is critical that we choose an appropriate time and place for our communications with others. Delivering bad news at the end of the day when your team is heading out the door is poor timing. Even worse timing would be to deliver bad news when you are leaving the office early and won’t be around the rest of the day. You need to be careful, though, that you don’t stall on delivering news because “the time isn’t right.” While timing is important, we should not let our own fear cause us to delay the delivery of bad news.

It is also imperative that you choose an appropriate place for the communications. Privacy is critical when discussing personal is-sues.

Finally, we need to consider the modes of communications that are appropriate in any given situation. It would not be appropriate to use a fax message to fire someone. Nor would it be appropriate to use instant messaging for a tough discussion. Both of these situations would be well served by a face-to-face discussion.

There are also times when we need to use multiple modes of communication. Often, our verbal discussions will need to be supported by a written communication or some other form of documentation to keep in our permanent records.

Approach Others with Empathy. Where possible we must approach others with empathy. We should attempt to think through how they will feel before and after our communications with them. For example, consider if the other party or parties will be scared in anticipation of bad news. Think about how we expect them to feel after we deliver our message. Do we expect them to be happy after we recognize their performance? What will we need to do in order to assure that they take this in the most positive light?

Share Your Own Emotions When Appropriate. We also need to be able to share our own emotions when appropriate. We should strive to be as open and honest as possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we bare our souls and share everything.

Check for Understanding and Reactions. Just because we delivered a message in a meeting doesn’t mean that the recipient understood or retained the message. We need to follow-up with receivers to make sure that they understand what was communicated. We might also ask for their reaction to the message.

Project Team Meetings
Most project team members seem to dislike the deluge of meet-ings that come with the job. Here are some ways to improve your meetings to make them both worth attending and enjoyable.

• Start with meeting objectives and an agenda.
• Monitor the group for emotions and aliveness. If everyone seems angry or bored, it may be appropriate to state that you’ve noticed this and ask why.
• Always show respect for others, in particular those not present.
• Monitor and address sarcasm and other inappropriate expres-sions of emotions.
• Address conflict.
• Lead with your own emotions.

Conflict Is Inevitable
Conflict seems to be inevitable on projects. From the start, pro-jects are built on a foundation of the conflicting constraints of time, cost, and scope. Further, projects are often created to satisfy the needs of one set of stakeholders, which may be at odds with needs of other stakeholders. During the execution of projects, conflict frequently surfaces over contention for resources, rewards and recognition, roles and responsibilities, team member diversity, technical decisions, reporting structures, and, even, individual personalities.

Lack of emotional intelligence in project team members and stakeholders can also cause conflict. Team members and stake-holders who experience emotional breakdowns or lack emotional self-control are like ticking time bombs. When these bombs deto-nate, they will frequently take healthy members of the team with them, which could include you as the PM. Even team members and stakeholders with high emotional intelligence may create conflict with others when they are under stress and pressure.

Project conflict can be disruptive. If not properly channeled, con-flict can stifle communication, kill creativity, and squash productivity. Unmanaged conflict will create unnecessary distrac-tions and may encourage otherwise good resources to leave the team. Project teams that are not able to manage conflict may ul-timately fail to reach their objectives.

In some cases, conflict is healthy. Properly managed project con-flict can galvanize teams, spark creativity, and cause healthy competition. Project conflict is an opportunity for the PM to demonstrate leadership with emotional intelligence competencies, such as empathy, self-control, and relationship management.

Conflict Management Is the PM’s Job
Conflict management is an essential part of the PM’s job. The PM is the one who will make the difference between leveraging conflict and having conflict wreak havoc on the team. Successfully recognizing and addressing conflict is part of the PM’s role.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino, PMP, PMI-ACP. Copyright 2013, Anthony Mersino, PMP,PMI-ACP. Published by AMACOM. For more information, www.amacombooks.org


About the Author(s)

Anthony Mersino, PMP, PMI-ACP, is an agile transformation coach and IT program manager with more than 27 years of experience.