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Art of Effective Communication – Part 1

I was working on an assignment and the project manager sent me an email asking me to explain what I was doing to make sure that everything is working as expected and why.

I answered it in terms of logic. He again asked me the same questions but provide a little more details on what he is asking; I replied to him. While I was doing so, I had to fight back several questions, such as “doesn’t he understand?” or “can’t he just explain?”

Yes, I could describe what I am working on in detail; all of my past mangers were happy with my ability to get the job done and answer questions. But wait!! Why should I have to put forth the extra effort and explain all this? My manger should be the one that has to adopt different ways of communication. After all, he is the one who is managing me. Right? However, I have to keep in mind that we are not a team of two and that I play a part in communication too.

There are many books that explain the practice of having different communication channels based on people, cultures and norms, so you don’t create a noise in  communication. The formula to identify communication channels is N (N -1)/2, where N equals the number of people. So let`s say you have 6 people on your project/team. You will probably end up having at least 15 [6(6-1)/2 = 15] communication channels.

There are different types of communications and different situations for each type. The type you choose will also be dependent on who you are trying to reach and how that person communicates best.

  • Formal written: complex problems, project management plans, project charter, memos, communicating over long distances
  • Formal verbal: Presentations, speeches
  • Informal written:  Email, handwritten notes
  • Informal verbal: Meetings, conversations

Now step back and rethink. Email allows for an informal tone of voice. What if in his email, my manger started communicating by explaining what he wanted with an example? An email is a good place for this casual type of expression and many people have a tendency to understand it quickly when you present with examples.

Effective communication eliminates anger, frustration, and discouragement, but above all saves time. Had my manager known more about how I communicate best, as well as the best way to convey his questions, a single email would have answered his questions.

So next time, when you are dealing with a team or even someone new, ask them to describe the best way to communicate with them and save yourself and them time and frustration in the long run.

Remember managers spend 90% of their time communicating.

How do you communicate with your team?

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  • Of course I communicate differently.  I'm saying this to myself as I am remembering times when I was FRUSTRATED, ANNOYED, even ANGRY with communication.

    There are times when communications break down.  Personally I don't know how to fix it.  Except for trying a different form of communication.

    There was and is sometimes when I just can't talk to people.  My favorite example is a person that hung over top of me and kept saying "Are you done yet?".  I had given an estimate of 3 days.  They were asking the question 1 hour after I got the assignment.  I was thinking "Are you serious".  I answered politely.  No, I wasn't done and wouldn't be for 3 more days.  And you guessed it - within hours - he came back "Are you done yet?".  AHHHHHH!!!!  Now I started to get beyond frustrated.  And on to annoyed.  I tried a different way - "Here's where I'm at XYZ, I have ABC left to do, and it will take me another 2 days".   So he waited a whole day - and then "Are you done yet?".  After about 10 more time of this, I got angry.  "NO I AM NOT DONE YET.  I MAY NEVER BE DONE!".  He went away - at least for a while.  Professional - no I wasn't professional.  I did start sending him e-mails.  I wouldn't pick up his calls when he called me, I let it go to voice mail.  Bad communication can do that.  It can make you unresponsive to the person you need to communicate to.  So I sent lots of e-mails on my progress.  I'm still not sure what I could have done to have him leave me alone.  I'll keep thinking about it.

    There are other examples.  The person who asks me a question, and doesn't like my answer.  So they keep asking me the same question in a different way.   That drives me crazy.  There are a lot more examples I could give.  My communication needs some work.

    Now my team, any team that I'm a team member.  Good communication is usually a quick meeting.  But when I need to work heads down.  I prefer e-mail.  So my choice of how to communicate changes.  This doesn't always work.  Sometime I end up with the project manager in my cubical asking for an update.  That's not a big deal for me.  It is a quick way of giving an update without sitting through an hour meeting.  So timing makes a difference in my communication.

    What about IM?  The ultimate non-face way of communicating.  I love it.  Quick, easy, people don't overhear, someone may read your IM other than the person who you IM'd.  So I keep that in mind.

    What about culture differences?  And there are some.  I don't think we can ignore them.  There is different expected communication between different cultures.  I have to try to understand what communication is expected.  It's hard.

    Art of Effective Communication - I don't think I'll ever learn it completely.  Maybe because I view it as a hard thing to do at times.

    Looking forward to more blogs on this!


    • My take: Few situations are really out of control.

      However , regarding the ease of IM you have mentioned, I had a tough experience. Although its quick and easy but we should keep in mind that if any change of requirement is communicated through IM it should be documented as well as per the client procedures.It can lead to big escalations at times.

      Regarding people who ask same questions in different way. I will tell you , I at times do this(excuse me please) when I am not convinced with the answer or I am having different idea or was expecting different answer. The best way to tackle this is to ask the other person as to what idea is he having and then rectify his opinion.
      I do face freshers doing this to me and I tackle them.

      Communication has different aspects in different situations.I think everything is specific to circumstances.



    • I will have to identify with all of Michelle's misadventures with communication - they are so true (smile)! and sure all of us have encountered with atleast one of these situations at some point in time! There are many factors that come into play when you communicate, be it seniority, culture, sensitivity, conciseness etc. I hate it when people ask me something and then cut me off even before I have started to answer! I find it outright rude and often have to politely say I am not done yet! Effective Communication is therefore an Art and it may not be easy to excel in all channels. Just talking in many cases helps clarify a lot more than what you would achieve over e-mails or IM since written language can always be misconstrued.