Imagine you found a defect. One of your team members made it.
And you know it.
What communication methods can you use?
The main five communication types in project management are verbal, non-verbal, writing, visual, and listening. These types transform into five efficient project communication methods: emails, instant messages, meetings, voice calls, and request tickets.
You can tap her on a shoulder and whisper, “I found a defect. Please fix it.”
You can send an instant message, “Here is a defect, please fix it.”
You can send an email only to her.
You can notify her and the whole team about the defect on a sync-up meeting.
You can send an email to her and your management in a copy about the defect. (Not sure why you don’t like her that much!).
You can submit a ticket in the bug tracking system and assign it to her. The system will notify her.
Impact of Different Communication Methods in Project Management
I hope that you feel that the response will be different in each case.
One will inspire trust and gratitude.
Others will humiliate. Some may harm a career.
Adequately selected communication method can position you as a leader. As a part of a team even.
So how do you select one?
In this article, I want to clarify a proper usage of common communication methods in project management.
Do also note that each method has its best context. However, it is not limited only to it.
Use common sense to identify what subtext your message will send a given situation.
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How Does Project Communication Works?
Before going into learning the communications methods you need to know how the communications work in general.
This video will cover the basics.
Five Effective Communications Methods in Project Management
Even if a person is engaged and willing to help you, some communications methods may restrict his or her enthusiasm.
Every communication method implies different levels of responsibility.
1. Use Emails for Everlasting Trails
Here is an important thing you need to remember.
An email lives forever.
It is a MacLaud of the modern office. Even if you and receiver delete it, there is a strong chance that a backup version is stored somewhere on the mailing server.
That is not all.
An email can be used as evidence in the court.
OK, even if it doesn’t go that far.
Emails will be used to sort out whom to blame.
For these reasons, people are reluctant to share thoughts and concerns in emails. They tend to keep it as formal as possible.
Therefore, it is not the best way to get support and brainstorm.
But there is more:
Email may not be the best way for the first move during escalation either.
That will put a lot of stakeholders into defensive mode at once. But you may require their expertise.
2. Use Instant Messengers to Warm up Engagement or Clarify Specifics
Instant Messengers are deemed to be more private.
Most of them can save the conversation history. So, they are quite the same as emails.
Nevertheless, it gives you an option to solve a problem quickly and quietly.
Here is the tip.
It always pays back to follow up on the agreed upon points in a messenger. But do communicate this intent with your interlocutor.
3. Use Meetings to Sell Emotions
All of us have meetings. They can be powerful. Most are useless.
Here is the real story:
Meetings are a perfect place for a stakeholder to say a lot while promising nothing.
An email with action points is what matters.
A meeting is only an excellent place to make a final decision when everyone is on the same page already. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time.
Use meetings to share information, sync up and generate ideas with stakeholders.
It’s not about fairy tales.
You can always push any dry and hard-to-digest information on a meeting.
However, humans are way better at relating to stories. So, whenever possible, try to come up with a real-life story or an example one to make your point.
Use User Stories and Use Cases to explain requirements.
Use stories to find a root cause of a problem. You can help people visualize processes and activities. You can explain “how could it happen” in a more vivid way.
3.2 Body Language
Your body translates lots of additional information while you are speaking. Don’t neglect it.
Use it to reinforce your message.
At least, use your hands to help you explain concepts.
Keep eye contact.
Control your posture to communicate confidence.
There is more to it. I do recommend you to learn the basics of body language.
4. Go for Personal Agreements (Phone Calls) to Getting Things Done
So, it is a one-on-one meeting. You can use any medium available. However, in-person meetings and interviews are still the best.
I believe personal agreements are the most efficient ways to push the project further. While at the same moment, it is the riskiest one.
Many delicate problems can be solved this way. You can find out a lot of useful information in private talks.
So, it is the best way to build the engagement.
And while everything goes well, no one will ever blame you for managing a project this way.
However, in a case of a crisis, you may not verify all agreements.
So, balance the risks and the trust you can put into a stakeholder.
5. Use Request Tickets to Finalize a Deal
This kind of communication is even more formal than emails. It follows the strict protocol to request someone’s action.
But there is a trick.
While it is formal, it can get very bureaucratic. Therefore, it is good to summarize the agreed-upon action, not to solve problems.
One more thing!
Why did I just wrote so much about all these means of communications?
Here is why:
Don’t Get Caught in the Loop
I want you to learn how to resolve impediments and get things done.
Communication loops are the worst enemy of productivity and engagement.
Imagine you need assistance from a stakeholder.
You write an email, describe the context, ask one direct question.
Yes or No?
Simplified as it could be.
Several hours later you get the response.
What the hack?
“Why do you need this in the first place? Give me all the details.”
You type even more text. Explaining the whole history of the matter.
The next reply says:
“Please send me the specification, designs and all related communication. I’ll review it later.”
Oh my… You do have all these in your inbox! Why do you ask me to do that?
Several days later and seven more useless emails and the stakeholder asks you for a meeting because he needs to clear things out.
That is the communication loop.
But how can you avoid it?
Use a correct communications method!
Conclusion on Project Communication Methods
For sure, there are other communication methods in project management. For example, comments in task trackers like Asana or JIRA.
But in any case, always think about the life cycle of a message you send.
Keep in mind this:
Every time you communicate you encode a message. You input the context, details, concerns, and you create it for a specific correspondent.
You assume he or she will decode your message in a right way.
That’s true most of the time.
However, it’s almost as true that another person will decode the message incorrectly. This person may be out of the context. He or she may over-exaggerate risks. The one might feel the fear of missing out, losing control, or blamed for your decisions.
Therefore, always consider who else might get your message. Select the communication method appropriately.
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Gabriel Morales says
I find this short list as a very effective one, in as much as it summarizes five communication channels and discusses why and how they can or not help us to communicate to staff members, colleagues or stakeholders.
However, I ask whether are they methods by themselves or channels to be structured on complex structures which building may vary according to contexts and developing of events.
Thanks as usual,
Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy says
Thanks for writing.
If we talk about definitions – email, IM, Video Conference or a one-on-one interaction are communications mediums. You send a message via a medium (you can call it a channel as well).
By combining a medium with intention, context, and a strategy you get a communication method. So, you can combine a medium with different concepts and approaches to get different communication methods.
For example, you can use email to communicate with a friend. You can use it to file an official request. You can use email to track defects on a project (likewise a bug tracker is another communication method for that). So, one medium serves different communication methods.
Nevertheless, I don’t think it makes too much sense to get into these details.
The key takeaway – you need to be conscious of selecting a medium when sending a message. A medium should reinforce your message and help you achieve a goal.