According to the Project Management Institute, ineffective communication leads to project failure one third of the time and compromises the project’s budget half the time.
In other words, communication is at the heart of project success. But improving communication is trickier than it sounds.
That’s why there are the Three Cs of Communication: Be Clear, Be Concise, and Be Concrete. With these three tips you will be able to better communicate your goals to your team, and your team will be able to give you the feedback you need to better manage them. Make sure to include each in any project communication plan.
1. Be Clear
What is the purpose of your communication? If you’re not entirely sure, then your coworkers probably won’t know either. Make sure that you have a clear goal when you’re addressing a teammate; ask yourself, what is the purpose of this meeting?
Try to use simple language and focus on the meeting’s ultimate goal. Check in with your teammates to make sure that they understood the ideas that you were trying to communicate.
There are a few strategies to facilitate clarity:
- Choose to have a face-to-face conversation.According to a 2010 review of literature [PDF], people who have face-to-face conversations understand the ideas presented quicker and build better relationships than those who use computer-mediated communication. While sometimes phone calls and emails are unavoidable, try to have in-person meetings when possible.
- Choose your medium carefully. If in-person meetings aren’t possible, find out how your employees would prefer to be given their tasks. Would they rather read it? Hear it? Watch it? Focus on what they need, not what you prefer.
- No matter what, ask for your teammates to paraphrase. There’s no better way to make sure your message got across than if your team members can put your ideas into their own words.
- Use project management software to communicate goals. Not only can software help organize project phases, but it can also highlight where teammates should be focusing their efforts.
2. Be Concise
Imagine if you were talking to your company’s CEO, your coworker, and an intern. You want to communicate what stage your project is in and what the next step is. Chances are: you won’t convey the message in the same way to all three people.
Being concise in communication means one simple thing: getting to the point without diluting your words with extra fluff. Your intern will probably want an easy 1, 2, 3 explanation of where the project is, where it’s going, and what tasks s/he will need to perform to get it there, whereas your CEO will want more detail as to how it relates to other company projects and goals.
While the emphasis of your communication will shift depending on who you’re talking to, the fluff doesn’t. You don’t want to add extra content for your CEO, your coworker, or your intern.
When you’re detailing with what the next steps in your project are, use direct language. Avoid confusing acronyms and jargon when you can—terms like “ACWP” and “project phase” may intend to convey a specific idea to your team member, but to them, ACWP might mean “Animal Control and Welfare Project” (instead of “actual cost of work performed”) and “project phase” might have no context. Here are some other overused business phrases that you might consider translating:
- “Don’t reinvent the wheel” = Don’t put too much time into this
- “At this moment in time” = Now
- “Pathfinder project” = A project in a new area
3. Be Concrete
Rayne Hall had it right: “Writing style can be descriptive without being wordy—and wordy without being descriptive.” And that idea extends to all forms of communication, from writing a novel, to giving a speech, to chatting with a teammate one-on-one. You can be clear and concise without sacrificing detail.
In the world of communication, you can choose to be abstract and you can choose to be concrete. Abstract communicators leave space for ambiguity and interpretation. Concrete communicators focus on phrases and terms that stay the same no matter what kind of language is used, such as numbers, people’s names, and dates.
Use concrete language to ground your abstract ideas. For example, instead of saying “I need you to be more reliable with your time cards,” say, “I need your time cards to be emailed to me by 12PM on Fridays.” Here, the ambiguous term is “reliable,” solved with a clear action item and deadline.
Consider being more concrete with the following steps:
- Use concrete words. Emphasize places, people, dates, and numbers. Use unambiguous details.
- Remove abstract language from your vocabulary. These terms include “successful,” “fast,” “hard work,” and “integrity.” Try to avoid using language that describes something that can’t be immediately perceived with the five senses.
- Show, don’t tell. When in doubt, appeal to tangible communication. Consider using a Kanban project management software system so that team members can visualize where the project is going. And as I mentioned before, always double check with your team that they understand the project’s goals moving forward.
Quality communication is key for good project management. I’ve named three terms—be clear, be concise, and be concrete—but I’m sure that there are more tricks that I’ve missed. How do you make sure communication is smooth when working on a project? Leave your answers in the comments below!
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