One of our delegates, being a senior person in years and very experienced (Dave), recited a communication problem that he encountered with a young colleague (Tom), who recently joined the company from university and was posted on his project team. Tom was seated behind Dave about four meters away with their backs facing each other. During the early stages of the engagement, Tom sent Dave emails when he needed to communicate with him, even if the communication was a question. Dave was immediately frustrated with this and didn’t answer any of Tom’s emails. Tom started to think that Dave was ignoring him, so decided to ask Dave, face to face, why he wasn’t answering his emails. Dave’s response was, “I’m sitting behind you, why don’t you just turn round and speak to me”.
The point we can take from this is they were both right and they were both wrong. Dave’s experience over the years and within his generation was most likely face to face communication, talking to each other. Over time communication techniques have evolved rapidly into what we see today, whereas from Tom’s point of view and his generation, communication is much more email, SMS, social media, Instagram, Snapchat based, which is what he grew up with and probably knew no different.
- Are we aware of our own default styles of communication
- Do we consider the communication styles of our colleagues
- Do we attempt to adapt those styles to be effective
How many times in the past have we found ourselves in situations where communication has either failed, been misunderstood, hasn’t even happened or been ignored? I am sure we can all relate to a recent given situation where we could highlight one or more of the problems listed above. I believe as individuals, we all seem to have a default style of how we communicate, receive and analyse communication. The question is, do we know what our default style is? Are we someone who:
- Tells people what we want
- Asks them to do something
- Speaks to people as a parent, adult or child
- Acts like a parent, adult or child
Some would argue that we are a different type of communicator at work to the type of communicator we are at home. Would you speak to your boss in the same way you speak to your family? It can also be argued that in times of stress and tiredness that we revert to our default type, so I guess if this is a fact, then we should know our default styles as we may have to control them in given situations
Effective communication will only take place if we can understand the styles of our colleagues who we interact with, namely our project sponsors, team members, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. People by nature are different and as such communicate information in different ways and that can be based on preferences or even generation gaps. Let me explain this with an example of a situation I encountered some time ago on a training class.
We have to be able understand our own styles and those of others and adapt the communication to be effective with ALL our stakeholders of various ages and backgrounds. Add to this the international dimension of languages and cultures and the problem becomes much worse, unless we consider all the factors. For Dave and Tom, all they needed to do was accept each other’s default styles and find a simple solution to remove the communication block, which Dave did take away from the training session as an action to speak to Tom.
Ray Moore is an experienced trainer, project manager and adviser who specialises in delivering PMP training.