The dying art of human interaction
by Catherine L. Tonne, PMP, Contributing Editor
I SN'T TECHNOLOGY FABULOUS! It has enhanced our lives and made possible things that we would never have dreamed of even a few years ago. Today's techno-wizardry enables me to work from home and have the world at my fingertips via the Internet. It gives people the ability to observe a remotely controlled robot maneuvering on a distant planet. It has freed many people from the limitations of their physical disabilities by enabling them to remain productive, contributing members of the workforce.
And yet, there is something inside that continues to gnaw away at me, that downright annoys me. I guess it is all the hype regarding today's high-tech professional toys, the gadgets and software continually being launched in the marketplace that are supposed to make me smarter, faster, leaner, meaner, more successful, and without which I will end up relegated to the back of the career advancement line.
Project managers are not exempt from the barrage of high-tech job aids that are guaranteed to make us superstars. Don't get me wrong—I am all for making our work lives more effective and efficient. What concerns me is the potential abuse of technology and the lack of emphasis on fundamentals.
To me, the fundamental core of project management is relationships, with the key element human beings and the key activity communication. I sometimes lie awake at night lamenting that the exquisite art of human interaction on projects is being suffocated and snuffed out by high-technology.
The most blatant misuse that I see concerns voice-mail. People tend to use this tool as a substitute for genuine communication and human contact. Voice-mail abuse leads to a disjointedness among project team members and lackluster team spirit because voice-mail is not communication, as there can be no true dialog and dynamic idea exchange. It is, however, a tool to facilitate real communication among team members and to stay connected despite time zone and geographic differences.
Don't misunderstand me; I would never give up the multiple voice-mail systems I must check several times a day. I have even learned to use them in a productive manner by:
Telling the recipient right up front whether my message is FYI or requires immediate action. This lets people with numerous messages waiting determine if listening to my message can be deferred.
Taking the time to write down points I want to make before recording the message so that I don't forget any and have to send a second message, thus clogging the recipient's voice-mail box.
Recording and listening to my message as often as needed to make sure the right words and tone of voice are conveyed.
Being selective on who gets “cc'd,” thus eliminating a voice-mail quagmire.
But, since relationships are the key to project success, how does one keep the human element and communications alive? By incorporating the best aspects of technology with savvy interpersonal skills and team building. Here are some simple and effective steps to do this:
Stop. With everything seemingly spinning out of control around us one must stop and take a couple deep breaths to have a clear head for addressing the numerous communication needs confronting project managers.
Take time to think. Project managers must take the time to strategize their interactions with team members to get the desired results.
Select the best communication mechanism. How the message is delivered is just as important as what is conveyed. There is an appropriate time and place for all modes of interaction, whether face-to-face, voice-to-voice, e-mail or voice-mail. The key is to maintain a healthy balance by using all of them, not just one or two.
Deliver the message. Execute the actions required to convey the message to the appropriate parties.
Monitor and evaluate the results. This will ensure that the message was received and provide closure.
Go back to Step 1, as needed. Repeat steps as often as necessary until communication is complete.
DESPITE THE TECHNOLOGY HYPE, all project activities are carried out by people and require human interaction. Our relationships with our project teams, whether they are in the same building or on separate continents, are the key to our project success. Building these relationships through effective contact and communication, using both low-tech and high-tech tools, will enhance the likelihood of success. With all its wonder and usefulness, technology will never take the place of the fine art of human interaction. ■
Catherine L. Tonne, PMP, is employed by Integrated Project Systems of San Carlos, California. She is also active on the Northern California PMI Chapter board and serves on various national and international PMI committees.
PM Network • October 1997