In almost all types of management, strong communication skills are essential. This includes not just being a good orator or writer, but ensuring the message has value as well as ensuring it gets to all of the intended individuals. It involves consideration of your incoming sources of information as well as consideration of your outgoing intentions versus potential recipient perceptions. Consider, for example, if you are a project coordinator over multiple projects and you have been tasked with telling one team that their project is not going to continue anymore due to shifting company priorities. It is not because they were over budget or behind time or where not following the scope plan. It is because the company as a whole has determined they want to move in a shifted or new direction. How would you go about it? Would you also tell other teams? These are very real situations you will encounter.
Disruptions in communications is another factor that needs to be considered. This might include the recipient expecting to hear a certain message and thus interpretting what you said as such even if that was not your intention. Going back to the situation where you are telling a team that their project is not going to continue anymore due to shifting company priorities, lets say there had been rumors floating throughout the company about potential restructuring because the president wanted to try new things based on some loose and debatable research she had read. How might this change what the recipients expect to hear? How might that change how they interpret what they do actually hear? Context is important.
Some factors that impact the way your message is received may be largely out of your control. Communication noise or interference refers to influences on effective communication that impact the interpretation. It could be that the recipient of the message is tired, or hungry, or distracted by a life event. It could be that the room is too cold or there is loud construction work being done outside. It could be many things. there are actually seven types of noise in communication. They include physical, physiological, technical, organizational, cultural, pyschological, and semantic. We will briefly discuss each one.
Physical noise. Physical noise is any sort of outside communication effort by
someone or something. For example, another person trying to speak to you at the same time as the original
communication effort is occurring, such as when someone tries to whisper to you during a meeting when someone
else is speaking.
Physiological noise. Physiological noise is a result of a functional biological
process that occurs during communication and prevents the receiver from understanding the sender's message. It
is the result of a bodily process instead of something else. It has an internal source. Physiological noise
examples are sickness, such as a headache, or physical weaknesses. It can also be physical characteristics such
as deafness or blindness. In some cases physiological noise is exacerbated by external factors such as a person
talking too loudly or too quietly. It could also be exacerbated by factors such as high or low room
Technical noise. Technical noise is not attributable to any speaker. These noises
are caused by other factors such as a telephone ringing or construction work outside.
Organizational noise. Organizational noise includes the behavior, processes, and
characteristics that may make it more difficult for an organization to achieve its purpose. As an example, one
organization may empower and nurture its teams and might be described as quiet. Another organization may have
many procedures, meetings, interruptions, and the like and may be described as noisy. Organizational noise can
happen at a team level as well. For example, one team may function in a manner that is straightforward while
another team may function in a manner that is complicated.
Cultural noise. Cultural noise is nonverbal communication of people from different
cultural backgrounds that is misunderstood. Some communication cues that might be involved are posture,
gestures, eye contact, touch, physical space, and attire. As one example, in the United States it is quite
common to expect others to look you in the eye when they are saying something serious, but that is not the case
in some other countries where the expectation is to look down as a sign of respect, or humility, or
Psychological noise. Psychological noise consists of distractions to a speaker's
message that is caused by psychological factors. This may involve the beliefs, attitudes, and presumptions of
the receiver as compared to those of the sender. It may be caused by sensitive issues such as religious, ethnic
or political conversations. Physiological noise can also be caused by factors such as a financial crisis where
the attention of the communicators is limited because each is trying to process additional information as
Semantic noise. Semantic noise is when there are gaps or differences in the interpretation or understanding of languages, words, or inflection. Semantic noise tends to lead to the recipient receiving a different meaning than was intended. Some reasons this can occur is due to jargon words, mispronunciations, or grammatical errors.
Models of communication are conceptual and help explain the human communication process. They should be seen as such and are open to interpretation and modification. Multiple models exist but we will address the three most well known, which are linear, interactional, and transactional. Each focuses on communications from a different perspective. Generally speaking, each entails a process similar to this: Thinking > Encoding > Symbols > Transmitting > Perceiving > Decoding > Understanding, although each has its own emphases.
Encoding is the process of turning thoughts into communication using some type of medium to convey it. The recipient or recipients then decode it, which is the process of turning that communication into their own thoughts.
Linear model of communication. This model asserts that communication moves only in one direction. The sender encodes a message, then uses a channel to send it to a receiver who decodes (interprets) it.
Interactional model of communication. The international model of communication describes communication as a two-way process where participants alternate positions as sender and receiver and generate meaning by sending and receiving feedback. Some attribute this communication model to Wilbur Schramm.
Transactional model of communication. The transactional model of communication is a process where communicators generate realities within social, relational, and cultural contexts.All participants are communicators instead of being seen as senders or receivers. The communicators co-create meaning.
As project managers it is important to consider the context for communications. This includes clearly identifying the purpose, the intended audience, and how you want to convey yourself or your team as the communicator. It also requires consideration of your chosen method of communication. In some circumstances a direct interpersonal communication may be the best choice, for example, when in others a written document may be more appropriate.
Both context and our communication methods are impacted to at least some degree by our leadership style. This may include our inclination to use authority and command over participative and affiliative methods as an example. Let's consider the Tannenbaum Schmidt continuum for this discussion. It demonstrates the relationship between the level of freedom that a manager chooses to give a team and the level of authority used by the manager.
Tells. The leader is authoritarian. They tell their team what to do and expect them to do it.
Sells. The leader makes their decision and then explains the logic behind the decision to their team.
Suggests. The leader makes their decision, explains the logic behind the decision, and then asks team members if they have any questions or concerns.
Consults. The leader presents their intended decision to their team and invites comments, suggestions, and opinions.
Joins. The leader presents the problem to their team and then works with them collaboratively to make the decision as to how the problem is going to be solved.
Delegates. The leader asks their team to make the decision within set limits.
Abdicates. The leader authorizes the team decide what problems to solve and how to solve them.
Some pressures that influence of leaders decision-making and communication approach include situational pressures, internal pressures, and pressure coming from others. The context and Leadership methods will impact what is communicated and how. It is important for us as managers and leaders to consider how we lead and communicate ourselves.
Communications can have a multitude of goals and structures. A goal might be to increase knowledge in
an informative manner. It could also be an effort to change attitudes or behavior in a persuasive manner. These
two different goals have a different speaker intent, a different message purpose, and a different listener's
effect intended. A communication can also be intended as entertaining, demonstrative, motivational,
gratitudinal, or the like.
As far back as 1515, Aristotle Wrote a book on rhetoric which focused on the art of persuasion. In
it, he claimed there were three types of oration: deliberative, forensic, and epideictic.
Judicial. The judicial branch of oration is based on time that is past and has the
purpose of accusing or defending. It is used in situations of justice and injustice topics.
Deliberative. The deliberative branch of oration is based on time that is in the
future and has the purpose of exhorting (encouraging) or dissuading. It is used in situations of assessing
worthiness, good, or advantageousness.
Epideictic. The epideictic Branch of oration is based on present time and has the
purpose of Praise or blame. It is used in situations of assessing virtue or a vice.
While these categories do not exhaust all types of oration possible, they demonstrate distinctly
different approaches that likely also impact the communication structure. Since the intention is different it is
likely that the presentation and expected response will vary as well. In some cases the communication is looking
for discussion while in other cases it is not. In some cases the communication is intended to spark questions
for those receiving the message while in other cases the opposite is true.
A speaker may also choose a structure that is either direct or indirect. With a direct communication the main points are followed by subsidiarity points or recommendations are backed by arguments. With indirect communication, subsidiary points precede the main point and reasoning arguments are made which lead to a recommendation.
We have already discussed communication noise or interference as a barrier to communication, but there are others we need to consider as well. These include distorted perceptions, distrusted sources, a hostile environment, or transmission errors.
When we discussed psychological noise above we noted that it consists of distractions to a speaker's
message that is caused by psychological factors. This may involve the beliefs, attitudes, and presumptions of
the receiver as compared to those of the sender and may be caused by sensitive issues such as religious, ethnic
or political conversations. Three barriers to communication relate directly to this psychological noise.
Distorted perceptions occur when the recipient has preconceived ideas about either the speaker
or what is being said. Irrational or inflated thoughts or beliefs can distort a person's perception of reality
or may alter how a message is interpreted. Let's say company X hired a consultant to come and speak to
employees about methods to motivate others. The consultant is Jane who has bright red hair and blue eyes.
One of the attendees named Sue has preconceived ideas that redheads have fiery tempers, are highly aggressive,
and have little tolerance for others. Based on these preconceived ideas, Sue Believes Jane will only tell them
to command and control and use fear as the means of motivation.
Another barrier to communication is when the recipient does not trust the communicator, which is known as distrusted sources. This distrust could be for legitimate reasons or not. Either way, the recipient is not likely to believe what the communicator is attempting to say, whether it is in fact truthful or not. The distrust could be due to prior interactions with the communicator, past actions of the communicator, or distorted perceptions by the recipient that reach levels of bias that are so strong there is automatic distrust.
A hostile environment is also a barrier to communications. In a hostile environment there is unwelcome or offensive behavior which causes one or more individuals to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated. It is discriminatory behavior that is unwelcome and unproductive. The hostility can be either objective or subjective, or both. Subjective observation is based on a person’s opinions and perspectives, as opposed to being general, universal, or scientific. Objective most commonly means not influenced by an individual’s personal viewpoint.
In a legal sense, In order for a work environment to be objectively hostile, courts consider four factors: (1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance. If this occurs, the hostile environment has risen to the level of a potential lawsuit and is well beyond just damaging communications (BT Law Group, n.d.).
A final barrier to communication, which doesn’t have to do with psychological noise, is transmission error. With transmission errors the receiver's information does not match the sender's information. Errors were introduced in some manner during transmission. Well this can occur in all communication platforms, transmission errors are often associated with computerized systems. The three main sources of transmission error in data communication systems are interference, distortion, and attenuation. Interference occurs when there is a disturbance of signals traveling across wires. With interference there can be erasure of information or the signal itself could have been altered either in single bits or in blocks of bits. With distortion, a physical system distorts signals . As an example, metal objects can block some frequencies of radio waves, while permitting others to pass through. With attenuation, as a signal passes across a medium, the signal becomes weaker. This often occurs over long distances for signals on wires or optical fibers or radio signals. In data management systems, two strategies to help deal with transmission error are the ability to forward correction and the ability to rerequest data.
Ensuring effective communications can be challenging. Some simple things that can be done to improve
communications are ensuring that the message is relevant for the receiver, communicating the message in its
simplest and clearest form while retaining all necessary information, repeating key points, considering the
purpose, and remembering that people have the greatest recall of the beginning and end of conversations.
When it comes to listening to others in communications, a good idea is to make use of reflective response. Reflection, or reflective response technique, borrowed from certain types of counseling techniques, is designed to elicit as full a sense as possible of the speaker's thoughts and especially feelings. It is a way of helping someone explore her own personal meanings. This technique involves reflecting back to the speaker what you believe she has said in order to verify (or clarify) your understanding and to encourage the speaker to continue elaborating on her point of view.
For presentations, some recommendations for ensuring they are effective include creating an overall strategy and using it to inform your structure, making the best use of the medium given (respect the medium), focusing on the introduction and conclusion, insuring a polished delivery and effective visual aids, and preparing for and allocating time for questions.
In most cases effective communication goes in two directions. This means that methods used for feedback are important. Deliberate feedback Is thought-out, careful, and intended to help in decision-making. For it to work, the giver and receiver must have consensus on the receiver's goals, and the feedback must have constructive motives. It often works well to describe what you heard and show appreciation for the efforts. Be concrete and specific. This way the speaker can clarify any information necessary. Next, if you have recommendations, discuss it as something the person can act on. Don't withhold negative feedback if it is relevant. Be descriptive, not judgmental, and restrict feedback to things you know for certain. It often works best to say how you feel instead of if you perceive something as right or wrong. For example, it tends to work better to say “I feel frustrated“ instead of “that is inappropriate”. Permit the giver to add his or her own observations and feelings as well. Lastly, timing is important. Give your feedback when it can still have an impact but try to do it at times when emotions are not high and defensiveness is at a minimum.
Communications planning involves determining the information and communication needs of all stakeholders. This includes understanding who needs what information when they will need it, and how it will be given to them. A part of this is understanding the plan for information distribution. The goal is to make needed information available to all project stakeholders in a timely manner. One example of information that may need distribution is performance reporting. This involves collecting and disseminating performance information including status reporting progress measurement, and forecasting. Oddly perhaps, one area that is sometimes overlooked is communicating about project closure. This entails generating, Gathering, and disseminating information to formalize a phase or project completion. All in all, the three main processes within communication management are planning communications, managing communications, and monitoring communications.
BT Lab Group, LLC. N.d. Proving Hostile Work Environment Claims. Retrieved February 8, 2022 from https://btattorneys.com/practice-areas/hostile-work-environment/proving/