Effective Communication

Have you ever received an email or IM from someone that started with “No, I…”? What did you hear when you read this? Was it positive? Did you think the person typing the message was being friendly or encouraging? In all likelihood after receiving that message you probably felt as if someone has scolded you simply because of the way the message began. The fact that you couldn’t the tone of the message can change the delivery 100%. Dr. Stolovitch (Laureate Education, Inc.) clearly stated that “communication is not just words.” I have given the advice more than once to colleagues who were frustrated with a written communication that they shouldn’t read tone into an email or text. It is always best to speak with the person face to face before interpreting a written message with a certain tone.

I just completed an activity where the same message was given in three different mediums – first by email, second by voicemail and then finally face-to-face. In the message Jane is asking Mark for a report she needs in order to complete her own work and have it in on time. When I read the email from Jane it came across as being annoyed or frustrated with Mark and the situation. She starts by saying that she knows he is busy and she ends with saying she appreciates his help, but the message between these two things makes it seem as though these sentiments are simply her way of trying to get what she wants. The voicemail didn’t seem much different to me. Jane sounded annoyed and somewhat demanding and put off that her own work could be late because she is waiting on Mark. In fact, what she said in the voicemail was exactly the tone I read from the email. The finally message was face-to-face and the body language, facial expressions and tone used helped the message to come across as more of a friendly reminder than of an annoyed colleague. It was a completely different message in my observation.

I think the take away from this activity is that when things are due and there is something that needs to get done or an important message that needs to be communicated it is best to do it in person when necessary. However, sometimes it is not possible and when messages must be conveyed from a distance it is best by phone using an appropriate tone or if absolutely necessary through a written message avoiding the use of certain phrases or words that may come across as negative and demanding like the first example I gave. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) tell us that “whatever form communications take…project managers should plan and prepare so their messages are received and correctly interpreted” (p. 367). Communication is key to a successful project and how the communication is delivered can make all the difference as to whether it is effective or destructive.

References:

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Communicating with Stakeholders. (Media Resources). Boston, MA: Stolovitch.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Learning from a Project “Post-Mortem”

DSC_0309-2 (104x150) In my professional life I work as an instructional designer and often am required to manage projects which I am a part of as well. When I work as a project manager I typically am pretty successful. However, when I set out to plan my partner’s, Phyllis, and my first baby shower I should have approached the task more as a project manager and less like only a member of the project team.

As a first time parent, there were a number of people who had volunteered to be a part of the planning and throwing of the baby shower. The decision was originally made that my sister-in-law, my best friend and Phyllis’s best friend would work together to plan and throw the shower. We communicated with each of them and shared their contact information among them. We were told that we should step back and allow them to plan the party and just show up and enjoy the fun and festivities. But, when it came to less than a month before the shower should happen we began to get nervous and started asking some questions. It seemed that no one had communicated among the three of them. Two of them, separately had been looking into locations for the shower at completely different locations and types of facilities. Though the idea of being able to step back and let the team do the work seems wonderful, in this case, it was a disaster!

The outcome of the way this project was managed was that one shower became two and my sister-in-law ended up not only not planning the shower but not even attending. The two showers were planned and thrown by two people who were not one of the three original contributors and those who were original chosen became attendees who provided some of the food and/or decorations. The locations of the showers ended up being at the houses of the friends who threw the showers which had a good deal to do with the decision to have two showers due to the amount of space available at the houses. And the friends who volunteered to let us use their houses really took over most of the responsibility of the planning and throwing of the shower. Phyllis and I chose the dates and sent out the invitations as well as purchased the decorations and game prizes ourselves.

If I would have come at the planning of the shower as a project manager, still working as only a manager of the team, but allowing the team to do the work of the overall project I believe it could have been much more effective and would have avoided the drama and stress that resulted from the lack of communication and organization. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) explain that successfully launching a project requires that “everyone associated with the project must understand the roles and responsibilities of project teams and stakeholders (p. 76). This just simply was not true with this project.

Greer (2010) says that “you need to meet with all of your stakeholders and conduct a brainstorming session in order to document, in “high resolution,” everything you are going to be building” (p. 13). We should have taken the time to meet with everyone at the beginning of the project and discussed what each person would be responsible for completing and how they would communicate with each other and with us. Also, timeframes should have been made much clearer from the beginning. The reason Phyllis and I took the reins and ended up doing a lot of the work is because we didn’t feel things were happening in an appropriate timeframe. Since we did not communicate our expectation of timeframe from the beginning no one had a deadline to hold them to and thus things did not get done.

Communicating expectations from the beginning both the role and responsibilities and timeframe would have made all the difference with this baby shower being planned more quickly and effectively. In the end we had two wonderful showers. However, not only was there a lot of stress, but relationships were strained from the lack of management of the project. This was a project that needed to be managed but unfortunately I didn’t approach it in that way. I will definitely look at it differently if ever I am faced with a “project” such as this one again in the future.

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.