Fostering interpersonal communications




The dignity and value bestowed upon and felt by each individual is central to the overall continued success of an enterprise. The best-run organizations—and often those with the highest morale—typically are organizations where members demonstrate a basic respect for one another.

The core principle underlying effective interpersonal communications is the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” There is no better rule to follow when working with or serving others such as project stakeholders.

Here is a starter list of seven actions to adopt to foster and improve effective communication among project members.

Exercise tolerance; be quick to assist. More than ever, your job requires you to know more, resulting in a greater dependence on the knowledge and experience of others. We need to exercise tolerance of others when they come to us for help. After all, we will need their help some day. As members of a project willingly share their knowledge and experiences, the collective strength of a project increases. Moreover, “helpers” are frequently the most respected and admired members of a team. Four words to speak if you want to be remembered: “I will help you.”

Caution: Do not voluntarily assist others at the sacrifice of your own commitments.

Make direct contact. Interactive communications is still the best kind. Go out of your way to meet the people on whom you depend or who depend on you. Talk to them via telephone or face-to-face. Invite them to your meetings; ask to attend theirs when appropriate. E-mail has great value but do not overlook the need to build relationships and bonds that only your voice or presence can cement.

Relay your message in the fewest words possible. The higher you communicate up an organization's hierarchy, the fewer words should be spoken and with better clarity of point. Higher-ups assume you know more but are far too busy to sit still for the unabridged version. They only need the net.

Use tact. Howard Newton, an American advertising executive, said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” The message you send may not be heard as loudly as the manner with which you send the message. Keep emotion out of a discussion. Focus on the facts at hand. Show people that you are willing to work with them where appropriate and that you are attempting to add value to the product or process.

Be a good listener. Communication is a two-way process. To be an effective communicator, you must be able to send and receive information. Helpful tips include: Maintain frequent eye contact, voice brief responses to show you are listening; don't prematurely change the subject; ask questions; and restate what you heard. We learn through listening.

Be willing to break with tradition. We live in a rapidly changing world. All of us must be open—more than ever—to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Tradition can be a bad thing. It can cause us to narrow our thinking and to jump to erroneous conclusions. It can cause us not to grow, to be less effective, unable to see that which is possible and even necessary. Be open, even eager, to new ideas and methods. However we performed yesterday, we must perform better today and still better tomorrow.

Ask questions, never assume. Incorrect assumptions that you make on the job can cost your project considerable rework, lost time and, ultimately, lost revenue. Asking a question at the appropriate time can help you avoid missing a commitment, save money, save time and even save face—yours or someone else's.

Although one person can influence change in an organization, the more members that rally behind a cause, the stronger its impact will be. To this end, consider developing a set of people principles, such as those presented here, to be adopted across your project or organization. Because a project consists of people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, these principles may not be intuitively obvious to everyone. If they were, projects and organizations would not have so many people-related problems.

Now go make a difference! PM

Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His books include The EnterPrize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI.


Send comments on this column to [email protected].




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