Team Productivity

3 Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator

Bella Woo
March 24, 2014
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There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Communication is the heart and soul of project management. Just go through your daily routine and try to find a task that isn’t related to communicating with another human being.

Here’s an example of the tasks I perform during a typical workday:

  1. Log on to internal instant messaging client
  2. Check my e-mail; reply to some instantly, file away others for later
  3. Log on to TeamGantt and respond to any comments waiting for me
  4. Hop on quick phone calls with my managers who need status updates
  5. Review deliverables and provide feedback to team members
  6. Scrum meetings with in person or using video conferencing
  7. Reply to the emails I had flagged earlier
  8. Repeat 1-7 until the end of the day

I bet the above sounds very familiar for you. Because we spend so much of our time communicating with our teams, it’s safe to say that your communication style has an effect on project outcomes. We are always trying to find new and improved ways to communicate our feedback, preferences and recommendations to our clients, colleagues and bosses. Here are three things I have been actively working on to make me a better communicator.

Be a translator

One of the easiest communication mistakes we make is to assume that our audience understands the industry jargon. Whenever someone asks me what it is I do, I always say that I act as a translator between my team and my managers and clients. I’m the person that speaks both the industry jargon and can understand business goals. Even though I tell people that this is what I do, I don’t always meet my own expectations.

Just last month, my team and I shipped out a new release for a website project. We received comments throughout the design process and then again during testing saying that the copy on the website does not match the designs. Understandably, this frustrates the design and development teams. I try and explain the concept of “for placement only.” However, this month during a new release, the same comments have come through from the same client.

My reaction was not admirable. I grew frustrated and wrote the client off. I chose to blame others as simply not getting it. Instead, I should have tried harder to find a way to explain placeholder text. I should have considered that perhaps my initial explanation was not clear enough or still contained too much industry jargon.

Even if you’ve explained a concept 50 times, you may need to periodically send reminders to refresh people’s memories. And you are always going to run into one more person who has never heard of “for placement only.” I will probably never stop translating and neither will you. Keep this in mind and take pride that this responsibility is part of your job. It’s probably one of the most important roles you play.

Be mindful of emotions

The purpose of communication in human society is to express needs. Physical needs are straightforward. “I am hungry” or “I am cold.”

Emotional needs are not so straightforward. As social beings, we communicate emotions to elicit responses from another being. We are constantly seeking approval from others. Sometimes we crave emotional responses from others that are irrational. And many times, this irrationality and cravings can influence our behavior at work.

Try being more conscious of the emotional needs of others while in the workplace. If you need to make a contrary statement, try doing so in a way that wouldn’t make others feel like they are being blamed. If you have to point out a mistake that one of your team members made, choose to do so in private. If you notice that someone is struggling with their work, offer words of encouragement and reassure them that they are doing a good job.

Staying proactive on fulfilling my colleagues’ emotional needs is something I am constantly trying to work and improve on. When I provide feedback or accept a deliverable as final, I try to say more than just “Thanks.” I include a personalized note on what a good job the person is doing or how appreciative I am of their efforts. When something goes awry,  I analyze the situation and quickly identify a solution and keep the team moving forward. I don’t dwell and expound on where we went wrong to minimize finger-pointing and reinforce the concept of team effort.

When we keep emotional needs in mind, people are more likely to stay positive and motivated. Positive and motivated people keep projects moving forward.

Talk about something else

Technology has given us the tools to make us more efficient communicators, but the stress and anxiety has not been eradicated by the tools. Why is this?

We’ve all heard about how being able to hide behind the computer screen can make us more direct, abrupt, or even downright rude. But somehow, when we are given face-to-face interaction with these same people, that aggression disappears.

I’m a perfect example of this. Multiple times I’ve been told by remote team members that I sound very intimidating when i first began working with them. Then they meet me in person and learn that I’m a real human being with feelings, with interests outside of work and capable of humor. Suddenly, any inklings of stress or struggle are dissipated. Being able to connect in person builds emotional connections that assists with communication.

As remote teams are becoming more commonplace, the idea of organizing recurring in-person meetings are being built into the project process. If you manage remote team members, try and organize in-person meetings or video chats as often as possible. When it doesn’t seem like a problem can be resolved with a few quick emails, pick up the phone or request a Skype or Google Hangout session.

Don’t forget about the people that you work with in the same building either! Try and schedule in-person meetings or stop by their space if an email chain doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

But where the magic lies in face-to-face communications is the inevitable off-topic conversations. It’s that minute where you make a joke or ask about a new hobby that builds relationships. Bonds are built when you take a break from an all-day session to grab coffee from down the block. You learn to trust someone when you’re interacting with someone casually.

The efficiencies of digital communication takes this away from us. It’s OK to get off-topic once in a while. In fact, it might be the thing that saves you from a miscommunication mishap down the line.

I’ve barely scratched the surface on the different ways you can better your communications. Got communication tips you want to share? What are some of your favorite ways to connect and listen better to your teammates?


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