2.2 Effective communication
Whilst effective communication is an essential skill for the project manager, most people tend to be over-optimistic about the accuracy and efficacy of the communication process. Achieving understanding can be difficult, especially in the atmosphere of change and uncertainty generated by a major project. Verma (1996) identifies the following barriers to good communication.
‘Noise’ – Anything that distorts the message being transmitted, such as other conflicting messages, can interfere with its meaning. There should be a shared understanding of a project's actual objectives, in order to clarify what people think it should achieve. This avoids the persistence of ‘alternative’ accounts of its purpose and unmet expectations once it is complete.
Selective and biased perceptions – People tend to listen to what they want to listen to and read what they want to read into a message. Again, ensuring clarity of a project's objectives and the achievement of project milestones once they are reached will help to counteract ‘subversive’ accounts of its progress (or lack of it!).
Conflict – Conflict can act as a wall between individuals or groups, preventing communication between them. The most obvious situation for this to occur in a project is between different functional groups (who may have different agendas regarding the outcome and development of the project).
Language and tone – The intended meaning of a message can easily be missed by someone whose background is different from the sender's. This is likely to be an issue in a project when those responsible for it have specialist skills not shared by the project's clients or end users.
Lack of feedback – Receiving and listening to feedback, as well as imparting messages, is essential for effective communication. It is as important to seek feedback from interested parties throughout a project's lifetime, as it is to secure clarity about its objectives at the outset. Without appropriate feedback, it is easy for a project to drift off course.
A project manager can facilitate effective communication.