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Project Management

3 Ways To Tell If You Are Really A “Good Communicator”

A work team having a casual meeting.

“I am a good communicator” is a phrase that you will often see thrown around in project management circles.  But what does that mean, really?  Is it enough that your local coworkers are able to understand your meaning?  What about coworkers from across the country, who might use different slang?  What about your coworkers who are neurodiverse?  Or perhaps those from another country entirely, who don’t speak English as a first language?  The key to truly being a good communicator is being able to share your ideas in a way that all of your teammates can understand.  Read on for some tips on how to accomplish this!

1. Keep Language Clear and Straightforward

Do your best to keep your language clear and straightforward.  To fall back on an old cliché, mean what you say, and say what you mean.  Avoid the use of idioms in your communications.  These phrases can be unclear and lead to misunderstandings, since every culture has their own variations!  Similarly, try to avoid the use of sarcasm or other language that masks your ultimate meaning.

Make sure to use consistent language when describing a meeting, a task, or other recurrences to your teammates.  For example, don’t call your daily get together a “Stand Up” one day, and a “Scrum” the next day.  If your final code demonstration to the client is a “Demo”, don’t call it a “Review” next week.  This switch in terminology makes it difficult for your teammates to know exactly what you are referring to.

Always try to be direct, honest, and to the point, without unnecessary extras.  This can be uncomfortable for those of us who were raised in cultures that place a heavy emphasis on not being direct.  (Please remember that being direct is not an excuse for being unkind!)  Don’t worry, though, as this is a skill that can be learned in time!  As you practice, you will gain competency and feel more comfortable with your phrasing.

2. Find the Balance Between Over and Under Communicating

We are often told to err on the side of over-communicating, but I’m not sure that is a good blanket rule to follow.  There needs to be an appropriate balance when considering what things, and how often, to communicate.  Some of our colleagues may struggle if they are constantly being interrupted with details that don’t necessarily pertain to them or their tasks.

Consider how critical the information is to the team, and whether or not it impacts their work in the immediate future.  For example, does every team member need to know about every single meeting you have with the client, especially when you are discussing high level strategy?  Or can you get through 2 – 3 meetings, get closer to a final decision, and then let the team know?

If you are unloading on the whole team every time there is a question, concern, scope shift, or discussion of priority, their day can quickly be derailed with stress and worry about things that ultimately may not matter at all.  (How many times do we think  a request is coming, only to have it fall by the wayside??)  Whenever possible, I limit my meetings and conversations to a need-to-know basis.  Once plans are closer to solidified, I can communicate those plans to the team as a whole.  That way I can ensure my messaging is clear and straightforward (point #1!), and that I have not caused stress or distraction with tangents that are not relevant.

3. Be Flexible!

With the rise of remote work and video calls, it can be easy to assume that everyone communicates effectively this way.  In reality, following along with verbal communications can be difficult for some team members.  It’s important to ensure that captions and / or a post-call transcript are always available, at a minimum.  Consider also recapping key information in an email, Confluence document, or chat space after the call.

Alternatively, some team members struggle with following a written train of thought, especially if there is a lot of information to convey.  Try breaking down your key points into bullets, so that you are not sending over a large wall of text.  Use bold to emphasize important lines which should not be missed.  Re-read your messaging, to see if you can cut any unnecessary points out or streamline your thoughts.  If your teammates still have difficulty understanding your meaning in writing, try to make yourself available for a video call (even a brief one!) to help clarify your point.

Be flexible and willing to adapt your style to help each of your teammates be successful!

Ultimately, it’s important to build relationships with your teammates and to be open-minded to the idea that everyone communicates differently!  As project managers, this may require us to break out of old habits, to stretch our comfort zone, and to be flexible in our daily interactions.  Practice makes perfect, though, and in no time, you will feel confident about adding “good communicator” to your portfolio!

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Melissa Page

Melissa is a Lead Business Consultant at Perficient, with over 10 years of experience in digital project management. Her passions include accessibility, DEI, and ensuring fair access for all at the table.

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