Good communication is the foundation that keeps your project management team moving forward. But as our communication options expand, our ability to match the method to the need sometimes becomes fuzzy. Here we’ve outlined the top 3 communication methods, along with dos and don’ts for each.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
E-mail (along with IM and other social media platforms) has become a ubiquitous communication tool. Fast, efficient, archive-ready, and available on computers as well as mobile devices, we rely on it for much of our project-related communications. While e-mail has numerous advantages, some of the drawbacks include accumulating a huge volume of data—much of it less-than-critical and occasionally downright superfluous—very quickly. Resist the urge to fire off e-mails every time a thought enters your head. Instead, try to batch questions or consolidate information before creating a new message.
When to use: E-mail is a fantastic way to disseminate information quickly and to multiple recipients. It’s also good for those instances when you need a record of when data was sent and who received it.
When to avoid: When you’re upset—you might send something you later regret. Instead, take a step back and evaluate the situation objectively before hitting “send.” E-mail may also be a poor choice if you’re trying to convey delicate or unpleasant information. Your meaning or inflection could come through incorrectly, resulting in potentially confusing or even offending the recipient.
The sheer availability of phone service makes it the communication tool of choice for a huge number of people. It’s typically fast, reliable, and offers some of the advantages of in-person discussions without the formality of meetings and other scheduled events. Voicemail “phone tag” and the occasional inability to make it past a senior-level person’s gatekeeper sometimes make the phone far less efficient than other methods of communication. If you’re spending too much time following up on phone messages, it’s time to consider sending an e-mail or scheduling a meeting.
When to use: There are times when it’s quicker to pick up the phone and ask a question than it is to type out an e-mail or walk to someone’s office. It’s also a good tool to consider when you’ve already tried to communicate by e-mail but you don’t seem to be getting the information you need.
When to avoid: While the phone is just as good as—if not better than—face-to-face most of the time, it’s not always the right tool. Don’t use the phone for sensitive issues, such as counseling employees who are having performance problems.
Talking with someone in person (which for our purposes may also include video or web conferencing) is a tried and true way to convey information, use others’ body language to finely target your message (especially helpful when “selling” a potential project to key stakeholders), and cut through the bottomless wormhole of question-and-answer that e-mail threads sometimes become. Watch out for meetings that don’t have agendas or clear objectives, as well as speakers who seem to talk forever without accomplishing anything. Keep your meetings relevant and concise, and distribute minutes quickly so you aren’t recapping over and over for folks who didn’t attend.
When to use: Face-to-face communications are powerful opportunities to convince, persuade, and connect. Key meetings and presentations should be conducted in person, as should all sensitive discussions (e.g., employee performance issues).
When to avoid: In-person communication often takes time, either to prepare for or to travel to. If you can receive or distribute information more quickly via e-mail or phone without compromising your message, then there’s no need to spend the time on face-to-face.