“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”– Colossians 4:6 NLT
We all have our individual ways of communicating. Some of us were raised with solid communication skills; others were less fortunate.
Regardless of your upbringing and personal and professional experiences, the truth is that we can all become great communicators.
I won’t lie. Altering your communication habits is difficult, especially when you are accustomed to a specific communication style (or lack thereof) for the majority of your natural life. Additionally, recognizing the risks embedded within communication, and “catching” them before they amount to misinterpretations and miscommunications is even more difficult.
At my company, we maintain an Accomplishment and Error log (using Airtable). Each accomplishment and error that we log is categorized according to our goals and principles. When I look back through our error log from over the years, the most common error “category” is miscommunication and misinterpretations with clients. This could be related to misinterpreting client expectations, making assumptions, or simply thinking we are on the same page when we aren’t.
Upon my reflections, I ask myself—what measures can we take to prevent these types of errors from happening?
By practicing effective communication.
In this article, I’ll dive into the differences between effective and ineffective communication, the factors that impact the communication process, some ways you can apply effective communication in your daily life, and also how to develop a communications plan, so you know just how to communicate and when.
How to Apply Effective Communication to Your Daily Life
First, let’s define what we mean by effective and ineffective communication.
Effective communication – when the information or desired result reaches the other party or listener in little time or effort
Ineffective communication – when the information does not reach the other party or the desired result is not reached. Ineffective communication also requires a lot of time and effort.
We can all recall when we’ve had ineffective conversations, both at work and in our personal lives. When a client, colleague, spouse, or partner has a different communication style than us, it can be a huge challenge, especially if they don’t naturally communicate well, or don’t want to communicate well or take ownership of it.
Here is a great illustration of the bottlenecks of communication, the factors that impact the delivery of “effective” communication, and where communication often breaks down:
Furthermore, the majority of effective communications processes involve the typical “feedback/response” model. This involves a sender and receiver. The sender is responsible for encoding the message he or she wants to deliver to ensure the receiver understands and interprets the information accurately. The receiver is then responsible for decoding the message, and verifying that it matches the original message. This is often done by repeating the message back to the sender.
According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, “Communication develops the relationships necessary for successful project outcomes.” Communication extends from sending emails to regular project reports, and all facets and formats in between.
As I reflect on my own communication style and habits, I am more proactive when communicating with clients than in my earlier career days, but I admit that when I get wrapped up in the “daily whirlwind”, I don’t communicate clearly or I forget to communicate altogether.
It can be difficult to remove emotions and emotional responses from conversations. On the flip side, it’s also difficult for me to not get wrapped up in trying to appease call attendees in meeting settings where I lose sight of the original goal and purpose of the meeting in the first place. Being “assertive” doesn’t come naturally to me, and I have to really work at it in order to be effective. This is a downside to being an optimist, and it is something that I am constantly working on.
As I enter problem-solving mode and try to be more aware of the process of how communication and information flow, here’s what I’ve learned and what you can do to apply effective communication to your everyday life:
Practice Active Listening
- Be compassionate to others’ thoughts, feelings, perspectives, boundaries, and opinions.
- Be open-minded and widen your perspective while listening to others.
- Summarize conversations to ensure effective communication exchange.
- Be present and listen. Rather than thinking about what you will say or how you will respond, focus on the speaker. This is often where information gets overlooked.
- Be aware of any cognitive biases that could be present. When the speaker makes a statement, don’t simply take it for face value. Rather, ask how he or she arrived at those conclusions. What data or source supports their conclusions or opinions?
- Be aware of cultural and personal differences.
Practice Conflict Resolution
- Control your emotions during difficult conversations. There is where your conscious battles with the subconscious. Focus on logical thinking rather than reacting with emotional responses.
- Rather than argue, focus on seeking understanding.
- When resolving a conflict, ask yourself what you could have done better.
- Keep your mental immunity in check. Focus on making better decisions, resolving conflicts, and communicating. Use a decision matrix.
Develop Effective Communication Artifacts
- Recall the purpose and goal of the conversation. If it’s helpful, clearly say, “Here’s what I’m hoping we can get out of this…”
- Develop a communications chart or matrix (see example below).
- Use a decision matrix for making better and more informed decisions, resolving conflicts, communicating those decisions, and keeping your mental immunity in check.
- Use a meeting framework to help you properly prepare for meetings, presentations, and conversations (especially difficult ones). It’s okay to take notes during your conversation with someone, but be sure to communicate why so the listener doesn’t get the wrong idea.
- Take notes or record meetings using an AI note taker. (I use this tool, and it’s awesome.)
How to Build a Communications Plan
Ensuring effective communication through any area of business is incredibly important. The best way to set yourself up for effective conversations every time is with a communications plan.
What is a Communications Plan?
So what exactly is a communication plan? What does it look like? How do you create one?
By definition, a communication plan defines exactly how specific information should be communicated throughout an organization or project. Not only does the plan outline who should receive information, but it also details how and when they receive it.
Every communications plan looks different for each organization. Ideally, the communications plan should be developed based on the individual needs of the organization. However, a standard communications plan typically includes the following elements:
- Organizational charts
- Acceptable channels and/or technologies used for communications (i.e., email, chat, meetings, and so on)
- Stakeholders included in specific communications
- Communications frequency (how often a particular communication is disseminated)
- Relationships between stakeholders
- Communications format and artifacts (i.e., meeting frameworks, email templates, memos, status reports, and so on)
- Escalation policies and procedures
- Policies and procedures for handling and communicating sensitive or confidential information
- Communications flowcharts that visually demonstrate the flow and exchange of information
- Legal requirements
There are two parts to effective communication:
- Communications Strategy (The WHAT): Develop a communications strategy that allows you to organize what types of communications are important, and execute communications effectively. (This ensures the right messaging and information reaches the right stakeholders at the right time, and in the right format.)
- Communications Plan and Artifacts (The HOW): How communications will be executed, monitored, and what supporting documentation—or artifacts—will be used in the process.
Involving all stakeholders in the process of defining appropriate communications strategies is important for developing and maintaining stakeholder relationships, and is becoming a standard practice.
As mentioned above, communications planning can be tailored according to the specific project and stakeholder needs. To do this, when developing a communications plan, ask yourself the following:
- Are stakeholders internal or external, or both?
- Where are all stakeholders located? What are their time zones?
- What are stakeholders’ preferred methods of communication?
- What communications technologies are being considered for use? Which are the most appropriate to use?
- How many languages are used?
- Is there a knowledgement management system or repository?
Although a relatively simplistic version, here is a copy of the communications plan we share in our new client onboarding packet:
All in all, to sum up, regardless of our own personal communication strengths, weaknesses, styles, and work habits, we all have the power and resources to improve our communication habits, allowing us the confidence to facilitate effective communication in any setting.
Be proactive when communicating, it’s up to you to clarify!