It's been said that project managers spend 90% of their time communicating. This isn't just talking. It's about communicating in many different forms, such as reports, presentations, meetings with groups and individuals, emails, social media posts, and more.
So to start, let's look at what communication is through a relatively simple model. Communications involve a sender and a receiver. The sender translates ideas and thoughts into messages by using words, pictures, and other visuals such as gestures and body language.
The message is sent by some form of media, for example, speech, document, tweet or social media post, and so on. The receiver translates the received message into a meaning. The receiver may (and should!) acknowledge the receipt of the message and perhaps even respond and give feedback of some kind on the original message. This allows the receiver to clarify and better understand the message.
There's always some form of noise surrounding the communication medium. It could be physical noise from a loud or noisy environment. Think about trying to listen to this video if jackhammers and rock crushers were operating right outside your window.
Other types of interference can cause the message to be incorrectly received as well. This interference may come from our thoughts if we are busy forming an opinion without hearing the entire message. The best receivers use active listening when there is spoken communication to support translation accuracy. Similar skills are needed for other forms of communication so that they too may be accurately received, in spite of any noise.
The most effective communicators are active listeners. Active listening means listening without obstacles created by the noise and other factors that distract us from the message. I like to think of this as getting in GEAR:
- Give verbal responses. An occasional "uh-huh, okay," is sufficient. You don't want to interrupt, but you want to let the sender know you are still attentive to the message.
- Eye contact should be maintained at a comfortable level. Generally between one and nine seconds in length while listening. It also helps to lean in as a demonstration of your interest and attentiveness.
- Ask relevant questions to ensure you understand the message. Don't interrupt to do so, but let the sender finish. Also, do not allow these questions to pop into your mind while you are receiving - this is how important information is missed. Instead, collect all the information, then pause for a moment to think of relevant confirming questions.
- Restate and re-frame (or defuse) to ensure understanding and remove negativity. You might restate what you've heard in the words of the speaker or in your own words to confirm. If the message itself has a lot of negativity, you should remove that emotion and rephrase it to be more positive. If I said, "that's an absolutely stupid idea," then you should return to me with "so I understand that you don't think this is a workable solution. What ideas do you have to contribute?"
Stay tuned for more information about project communications next week. If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to read:
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