Communicating effectively with your management and customers is extremely important for your projects to be successful. In fact communication management is one of the key processes in the project management professional training.
Right from project initiation to closure there are numerous touch points that require exceptional communication to prevent understanding gaps, conflicts and execution delays.
Communication is majorly at 2 key levels – strategic and tactical.
During the course of your normal operations as well as project execution you are bound to come across scenarios that may not be to your liking. Bosses, managers and customers do not like to hear NO or their ideas being countered.
Such tricky situations need to be dealt deftly and with extreme care.
Let us review some key communication strategies that will help you win and shine at the workplace.
Get the full background context
Team members are usually too quick to jump to conclusions and respond full steam without knowing the full context or the WHY of the situation at hand. They have an opinion or feel they know better and just get going saying – this is not how it’s meant to be done!
Never do that!
If you have a good idea that will empower the situation at hand. Excellent. Go ahead and discuss with your manager or customer.
But before questioning the decision, understand why they are doing it. Ask what is it that isn’t working currently or why it needs to be changed.
With the full context at hand, share your thoughts and ideas. Make sure it is more of an action plan backed with facts rather than a mere opinion.
Plan the discussion – Set a time
Never rush or just barge in for conversations like this. Always share what you would like to discuss and why and ask for a slot where the boss or customer can give you their full attention.
This way you also have an opportunity to prepare well for the meeting.
If possible, share your plan with all the details e.g.
- Supporting data, reports or metrics
- How you wish to handle it
- What benefits would the shift in approach bring to the table
- Any possible cost or effort savings
Make a simple and short presentation if possible and share before the meeting to pick their interest and set the tone for a more meaningful discussion.
Bring multiple solutions
It is not required that you have to agree with everything your boss or customer say or plan. But then, they are your key stakeholders and their inputs/decisions matter.
They will have an impact on the project on your career whether you like it or not.
Hence, responding to a problem with another problem or inability, reservations to follow their plan is highly detrimental at the workplace.
Moreover it will affect your project success adversely.
The key is to always swim in the solutions pool rather than the problems.
Focus on all possible solutions you can think of. They may not be a 100% full proof but at least you are solving parts of the puzzle which is a good start.
By doing this, not only you are seen as being supportive of change but also as a forward thinking professional. And note, this is one of the key requirements employers look for in an employee.
Employ empathy – Listen well
Never interrupt or break the conversation in between to make your point. That’s a starter!
Now, when you have a disgruntled customer at your hand, first empathize his pain. Understand how the current situation has caused displeasure for him. He isn’t angry with you but the issue at hand.
Instead of being rigid or responding in the same tone, let him know that you understand and share his pain and that you will now help alleviate it to his satisfaction. Need not promise the world or the un-doable.
Try to get to the crux of the issue by asking relevant discovery questions. Lead him to a solution if what he is asking is not reasonable or can’t be done.
Note: customers too are logical beings and as along as their issues are resolved they are happy. They would rarely push for a specific type of resolution.
- Clear data and metrics
- Communicate the resolution timelines
- Let them know how you will notify them of the resolution
- And what other optimization or prevention can you recommend to avoid such issues in the future.
This helps you build trust with the customer and also regain lost confidence that might have been impacted due to the issue.
Agree to disagree
Note, the whole idea of you reaching out is the fact that you feel you could help or make things better.
It isn’t an up-man ship contest!
Sure, the leadership and executives may find your ideas or solutions to be not ready for the current situation.
There may be multiple reasons:
- Time and cost involved
- May not be aligned with the strategic vision
- Might have an impact on the culture
- May need reinventing or changing a lot of things
What is important is, you made an honest attempt, tried to contribute to the initiative and were supportive of the decision.
In case you are totally averse to what is about to happen, even then you do not have much say.
Take heart in the fact that you were given an opportunity to share your thoughts and were heard.
Do present the impact of not opting for one of your solutions during the meeting or in the presentation we referred to earlier.
This way you would have given a full picture and it’s up to the leadership or the customer to decide what’s best.
Thus you state your position clearly and have agreed to disagree which is acceptable to all parties involved. No heart-burns!
The above tips reveal one significant aspect of effective communication – presenting data. You could be a great communicator but without supporting artefacts, metrics it would all be just theatrics.
Another critical aspect is listening to understand rather than respond.
When you have the full context you have deep understanding of the situation and know what data and facts you need.
So it is always better to organize and plan your initiatives or projects well in a project management tool. This way you have all the metrics, KPI and real time data ready to use.
You are well equipped to remove any possible blind spots in the whole strategy that your manager or customer is so keen on.
Thus, you not only help your boss/customers to plan for their goals well but also standout as a trusted partner and ally.
Focus on the right approach and deploy all communication best practices to achieve a solution that is best for the company, stakeholders or the customers involved.
Either ways you will be on a solid footing and emerge as a team player, contributor and a professional who has the best interests of the team at heart!