Professional Communication for Project Managers: Be Open and Honest

Bournemouth DPM meets to talk about effective communication

Assuming you believe that professional communication is important to you and your team, how aware are you of your intentions when listening, questioning, and disclosing information to your team? Are you aware of the risks of over-reliance on communication tools rather than conversation and collaboration tools over direct communication?

DPM discusses team communication for project managers in Bournemouth

The Digital Project Manager Bournemouth regrouped in December 2018, thanks to sponsorship by Dr. Nigel Williams at Bournemouth University, to discuss these topics. Under the banner of ‘Keeping team communications open and honest’, Shirley Thompson, coach and project manager, and Mike Tanner, coach and consultant, led the conversations about professional communication, active listening, project management communications, and effective communication techniques and practices. 

Group of people in a team meeting to improve professional communications
The key to professional communication is active listening

Self-awareness helps effective communication 

Consider, when listening to colleagues, how aware are you of your intentions? Are you like a doctor expecting to hear a specific type of data such as symptoms of an immediate illness to address? Or perhaps like a manager who is only interested in bulleted status report expecting to hear ‘task finished’? Are there times you could be more like a therapist where you’re expecting a deeper issue and being curious enough to listen for hints on how and where to probe for information?

Active listening is the key to professional communication 

Under what circumstances do you openly listen, without expectation, to whatever a colleague wants to tell you?  When you are speaking, how much do you believe your colleagues or stakeholders are listening to you, especially when you have something important or complicated to say or explain?

With individuals or teams, it is essential to listen, and demonstrate you’re listening, really listening, or you may not get the buy-in and trust you might want. Important data could be withheld that comes back to bite you later. A task supposedly finished perhaps wasn’t quite finished or an unmentioned issue caused an unmentioned assumption to be made which turns out later to have been invalid.

Share your intentions to keep open team communication 

Consider too, when questioning colleagues, how aware are you of your intentions to fix things or ‘get to the bottom line’ as quickly as possible? Do you probe for your understanding? Or do you have any intention to help a colleague explain and possibly improve their communication and possibly the team’s understanding? If you don’t do this already, how could you agree with a shared intention with colleagues when initiating any conversation where both parties can raise any important or relevant issue?

Aerial view of a team working on a work plan showing that professional communication is essential for team success
Effective team communication is essential for your team success

Coaching for project managers  

Coaching practice is a useful medium for demonstrating and practising good listening and questioning techniques, as well as contracting for a particular type of conversation. If you get the chance to learn about coaching then do ensure there is supported practice, since all soft skills are not learned overnight. Coaching demonstrates how effective communication depends on the quality of the relationship and sets specific intentions for a coaching situation

For other situations, there will be different intentions for the relationship, as the examples of doctor-patient, manager-employee and therapist-client tried to show; such roles influence how communication skills are used. Perhaps you could think of more examples where intentions are different, such as friendship or an important customer relationship.

Improve your professional communication by building trust  

A useful tip to demonstrate listening is to regularly reflect on what you’ve heard; that way you’re both on the same page and it helps you to focus your attention. Similarly, if you get lost in the conversation, do be honest and interrupt, declaring a need to get back into sync. Focused attention helps to make the speaker feel listened to, which builds trust between both of you.

Most of us know trust is important for effective communication. Generally, though, there will always be some things we hold back.  But why don’t we disclose more at meetings?  Possibly because:

  • The story we want to tell seems unacceptable
  • The emotion we need is unavailable: what we feel is anger, guilt, embarrassment, vulnerability rather than honesty or humility
  • The weakness or mistake we want to share makes us vulnerable
  • We don’t feel we have the right to ask for what we need
Aerial view of meetings in a coffee shop highlighting the importance of professional communication
Being open and honest in your approach will improve your professional communication

Project managers must adapt their professional communication to various scenarios 

Certain circumstances may support us to disclose more about what we are thinking, feeling, or going to do! Giving more attention is an excellent start. Self-awareness too, along with the awareness that people may need to hide some things can help to consciously aim to create a safe space to encourage more openness in others. So, how much trust is there in any particular situation for both parties to be more honest and how can we accept that different perspectives are OK?

To share perspectives, for example, we can be more honest about:

  • How we see a situation e.g. its risks
  • Our personal feelings as long as we own them e.g. How we view the existing working practices (and not walking away with resentment)

This open discussion provides a platform to hear differing perspectives and finding resolutions, which means that project managers must be familiar with handling discussions.

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