Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Chunking your communication, part of Project Management Foundations: Communication.
There's an old joke about how we communicate. A man was driving down a country road, when he rounded the corner, he saw a woman driving a red convertible. She was talking on the phone, and zigzagging in and out of her lane. When she turned the corner, she quickly swerved into the man's lane. As she passed, she screamed, "Pig!" He turned and yelled, "Learn to drive!" But when he turned back, he ran straight into the pig. At a basic level, when we communicate, we're doing two things. We're encoding a message, and sending it to the receiver.
Then, the receiver's decoding the message to understand it. We can do this through language, writing, and gestures. After you encode a message, it loses some of its clarity. The added messiness is called noise. So, let's go back to our pig. When the woman rounded the corner, she yelled out a commonly used word. She used language to encode the message, "Pig," and delivered it to the other driver. As soon as she finished yelling, her message picked up noise. Why was she yelling? Was she upset? What was she doing when she yelled? Where was she? Was she on a farm? Does the word have more than one meaning? As a project manager, all the messages that you send, and receive, at least, have some noise.
You just need to make sure that the messages aren't drowned out by the noise. When the noise is louder than the message, you're in real danger of being misunderstood. You could tell if there's a lot of risk for noise by looking at at the messages content, circumstances, and context. Sometimes, the content will have a lot of noise. The content are usually the words written, or spoken. It can be commonly used gestures like a thumbs up, or a thumbs down, and sometimes the content already has noise built in.
I once worked for an organization that loved acronyms. They would say things like, "Make sure the BRD has the latest CRs for our DRB." "Check the RACI to find the SME." It took me months to understand the content, and the message through all this noise. Sometimes, the content of a gesture has a lot of noise. In some cultures, when you use your hand to call someone over like this, it's considered offensive. Even the commonly used, thumbs up, has a different meaning, depending on the nationality. So, take a look at the message's content. Is it filled with a lot of acronyms, or industry specific language? Is your company internationalized? If so, you need to be very aware of the content's language and cultural differences.
The circumstances will also add noise to the message. The circumstances are what you are doing when you receive the message. Say at the end of a two hour meeting someone says, "Well, that was a great use of our time." The circumstances would suggest that this was sarcasm. If someone said the same sentence at the end of a 30 minute seminar, you might accept the message as genuine. Try to look at the circumstances of the messages you receive. Is it the last few days of the quarter? Did the company just post disappointing returns? All of these circumstances will impact the noise level of the message.
After a disappointing quarter, you wouldn't want to send an email message with a subject that says, "Reducing team inefficiencies." People will assume they are about to lose their job. Under those circumstances, you want to email the subject that says, "Making sure everyone's working well together." Under different circumstances, both those email subjects would be fine, but after a disappointing quarter, there'd be a lot of extra noise in the first message. Finally, the context will add a lot of noise. The context is where you are when you receive the message.
Say that you're in a business meeting, and a stranger in a suit says, "You did a great job!" You'll probably react differently than if you're at a grocery store, and a stranger tells you the same thing. The context will give you a lot of background information about what the other person is trying to communicate. The same message in a different context will mean different things. Our poor pig may have survived if the content, circumstances, or context had a little less of this noise. Maybe if the content was, "Watch out for the pig!" the outcome would have been different.
Watch for this, when you try to determine how much noise you're getting with your messages. Don't assume that the communication is clean, and you'll have a better chance of understanding the other person's meaning.
Lynda.com is a PMI Registered Education Provider. This course qualifies for professional development units (PDUs). To view the activity and PDU details for this course, click here.
The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
- Using formal and informal means to communicate
- Prioritizing stakeholder needs
- Listening actively
- Planning project communication
- Understanding leadership language
- Writing clear and concise project reports
- Learning how and when to say "no"<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.