Whether in email, phone conversations or face-to-face meetings, communicating effectively does not come easily for many people. A lapse in communication in the workplace can lead to something as trivial as a rift between colleagues to missed deadlines or rework. Examples abound for each of these cases but the common theme is the same - communication failures result in lost productivity. By making a few simple changes, you can avoid these common pitfalls and improve your communication style.
1. Tone it down
The tone of your voice or words used in written communication can covey a positive, negative or neutral tone. Maintaining a positive or neutral tone is critical in workplace communications as it promotes a more welcoming and open dialogue. Consequently, a negative tone can immediately cause the other party to become defensive and closed-off. For in-person discussions, listen to what the other person says before speaking. Using this technique, you can respond to the other person without an emotional reaction. A reactionary response, especially one that comes across as defensive, can lead to conflict. This type of conflict can often be avoided by striving to keep a positive or neutral tone.
2. Caution calls
Conference calls - a mainstay of the corporate environment - can be very useful and productive. However, more often than not, one or more of these scenarios happens:
- Joining late to the meeting - Not two minutes after the leader has begun the meeting, someone beeps in and joins the meeting. This interruption is not only rude, it disrupts the flow of the meeting. Always be on time to the meeting. Better yet, be a few minutes early!
- Excessive background noise - No one needs to hear the wind in the phone as you walk down the street, the sound of chips crunching, or typing on a keyboard. Pressing the mute button should be automatic for everyone except the leader of the call. When it is your turn to speak, unmute the phone and when you have finished, put your phone back on mute. This limits the background noise and allows everyone to focus on the current speaker.
- Constantly dropping the call - At least one person always seems to be in a location with bad reception. Not only is it difficult to understand that person when they speak due to the low-quality signal, but this person constantly needs to rejoin the call because they cannot get a reliable connection. If you need to be on a cell phone for a conference call, try to pick a location where the signal is strong and you have reliable coverage.
- Technical issues - Attendees misplace the bridge number, there are difficulties initiating the bridge, a few callers access the bridge but other participants cannot, etc. If you are attempting to lead the call you cannot attend to all of these issues and still conduct the meeting. Have someone act as the point person to address technical issues behind the scenes so the business of the meeting can go off without a hitch.
3. Avoid "Reply-all"
Emails have become the default form of communication in today's workplace. While email has certainly helped increase connectivity, that does not mean you need to reply-all to every email. In fact, reply-all should be used very sparingly and judiciously. Emails that are congratulatory in nature (i.e. winning a new contract or celebrating a coworker's work anniversary) do not necessitate a reply-all. If you feel compelled to respond, only respond to those with a "need-to-know."
4. Select the proper medium
Know how to choose the proper communication medium to get your information to the intended audience. Complicated or difficult issues should always be discussed in-person. If geography is a barrier, consider a video call. Beware that in-person meetings require a time commitment from both parties. With this in mind, keep the meeting on-track by sticking to the agenda and tabling off-topic questions until after the meeting. Emails are a great way to provide information to large groups of people in a quick, efficient and cost-effective manner. So, for general announcements or seeking feedback from your team, an email is sufficient.
5. Listen up!
Recognizing when it is time to listen can be a difficult skill to master. Your perceived level of interest in the conversation is determined by both your verbal and non-verbal cues. Employ some of these active listening techniques to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the conversation:
- Maintain eye-contact - To show the other person that you are listening, look at them while they speak. You do not need to maintain eye contact the entire time, but someone who frequently looks down or away conveys a lack of interest.
- Limit interruptions - Constantly interrupting someone shows a lack of respect. Since you want to show that you value their thoughts, wait for the other person to finish before speaking.
- Ask clarifying questions - By asking clarifying questions, you demonstrate that you have listened to what they have to say and you also verify that the message was received correctly.
Using these 5 tips can improve your communication style and help avoid misunderstandings in the workplace. By using the correct tone in both indirect and direct communication mediums, listening more actively when others are speaking, and communicating to the right audience, you will more accurately communicate your meaning to the listener, while empowering them to be more open and honest in their responses to you. Try implementing these tips into your daily work routine and watch in amazement as the results prove the tips effectiveness repeatedly.
While project selection decisions are often not left to the project manager, one must still be prepared to advise and consult with others in the organization to help arrive at these decisions. Gathering information and facilitating discussions will be an important part of the PM's role here. The more information, documentation, and analysis performed prior to this discussion, the more weight the PM's opinion will hold. Thus, one must have at least a high-level understanding of the most common project selection methods in order to meaningfully participate in this important process.