Thoughtful Communication

This is a guest post by Ben Richardson, a director of Acuity Training, a UK based business that offers a variety of Microsoft Project and other project management courses. It is a follow up to his previous post of the 1st October 2015.


My previous article introduced the three key ways that top class project managers keep their projects on track. This is despite the inevitable delays and problems in any large project.

This post will expand on the first point that I made in that post. Namely, they know how to communicate thoughtfully.

To be clear, top project managers know how to be assertive. They ensure that their needs are clearly communicated and understood. They don’t pussyfoot around difficult problems or conversations.

What it does mean is that they have the emotional intelligence to know that people have different priorities and drivers. Ignoring this fact will lead to delays and miscommunication.

They also know that executing large projects has a significant emotional element to it. Many (should that be most?) people do not like change at heart. This is doubly so when they feel threatened by a proposed change. Strong communication skills allow project managers to address these fears head on and help people to move past them at the start of a project.

This post can’t cover all aspects of communication. However the following three points are a very good place to start.



Image credit The Highways Agency


  1. Good communication takes time

Differing ages, perspectives and experiences mean that people can approach projects in wildly differing ways.

This isn’t because they are stupid, or inexperienced. Everyone has had different experiences of projects in their life to date. These will colour their view of any new project that they are introduced to.

Top project managers will take the time to explain their project from the basics up. They don’t rush the basics. They ensure everyone is clear on the who, what, why, when, where and how of the project. This ensures that everyone starts from the same place.

They also know that they will need to repeat themselves often to ensure that their message really gets through. Often people who aren’t heavily involved in a project will need the basics explaining a couple (perhaps three) times to really get it. Frustrating as it might be, it’s not that they are stupid. It’s just that your project isn’t top of their list of priorities.

They also allow plenty of time for and make themselves available for questions through out the project. Answering questions will allay people’s concerns. Unanswered questions are why unfounded rumours get started.

Taking time to communicate clearly also has the effect of making the people the project manager is speaking to feel valued and listened to. This will help build relationships that will survive the stresses of a large project.

  1. Good communication requires empathy

Great communicators are empathetic. They can see things from other people’s perspectives and are open to their ideas. Empathetic communicators are sensitive to other people’s feelings and demonstrate this to the people they are dealing with.

No one can ever know what is going on in someone else’s mind. However, the ability to show people that you care about their feelings and ideas is vital.

The first step in understanding someone else’s emotions is getting them to be open about them. Openness is usually reciprocated. Top project managers will often disclose their own feelings in order encourage others to do the same.  They will also show people that they are paying attention, physically and mentally, to what they are saying. This shows that they really care about what is being said.

Having got them to opened up it is important to show people that their point has been taken on board. The easiest way to do this, and to be sure that you have understood them correctly, is to paraphrase what they have just said and repeat it back to them.  This allows people to correct misunderstandings and also feel listened to.

Once you have got people to open up so that you are clear on their point of view you can then move to dealing with their issues.

  1. You don’t get bonus points for figuring it all out yourself

As project manager the project is yours. People expect you to led it and tackle problems as they arise. That’s your job. However, it doesn’t mean that you are expected to have all the answers.

Other people will not think less of you for asking for their opinion, especially if it relates to their area of expertise. In fact, asking someone for their opinion has been shown in a Harvard study ((( link to to increase their opinion of the person asking for the advice.

In many situations people’s opinions and priorities will be at odds with yours. If this happens don’t think that you have to come up with the solution.

Asking ‘Well can you suggest anything?’ or ‘How would you tackle this?’ is a good way to use their knowledge and show them that you value their input. When people feel that their concerns and issues are understood they will usually help to work around any issues that they generate for other people.

The joy of really good communication is that people will help you to deal with their concerns if you get it right. This brings me to my ultimate point.

The time you invest in good communication will pay itself back many times over in almost every instance. If you view it as something to be invested in because of the return that it will pay you then you will approach it the right way.

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