Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Communicating Effectively

Portny et al. (2008) wrote, "The key to successful project management is effective communication" (p. 357). However, when you are working with a team, there are a number of ways to communicate including meetings, e-mail, phone calls, memos or whatever works best for your group. After all, communication strategies are never a one-size fits all kind of  deal (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Project Management Concerns). This week we examined a message delivered three different ways. Here is the e-mail:

This same message was delivered as a voicemail and in person. All three modes of communication are acceptable; however, the interpretation can be different. For example, the e-mail stressed me out initially. Jane uses a nice tone that is professional and not accusatory, but since I am a perfectionist, I began to panic that I had to get a report done sooner than I had perhaps planned it. Nevertheless, I was able to read it again and calm myself down as I focused on Jane's offer for me to at least send her the data. Now since this is a hypothetical project, I'm assuming I have the data already so that put my mind at ease because I knew I could probably do that immediately and then Jane would have it and be able to complete her report. I really appreciate the fact that I can go back and re-read this message as many times as I need to and with my e-mail, I can mark the message as "unread" so it will remain highlighted and keep Jane's request a priority, even after I have sent a little message to Jane giving her an ETA or the data. Because I like visual reminders, e-mails are effective for me.
Next I listened to the voicemail and I thought Jane sounded kind and understanding. The message was the same, but the words came out fluidly and without any special emphasis on any part of the message so this particular message didn't stress me out at all. Dr. Stolovitch said 90% of communication is not in the words and this is true of Jane's voicemail (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Communicating with Stakeholders). Namely because of her tone and the eloquence of her message, I was immediately put at ease and would call Jane right away to follow up with her. If I needed to, I could listen to the voicemail again; however, I didn't feel the need to do so because I think I would simply call Jane after getting her message. After all, if one receives a call, that likely means that the message was somewhat urgent and it is common courtesy to return phone calls promptly.
Finally, I watched the face-to-face message and I was not a fan. Jane was on the other side of my cubicle which I took as a signal that she was unhappy with me and didn't want to spend any unnecessary time with me. Her nonverbal communication was sending me mixed signals−her words were still rather kind and understanding (though the emphasis on "YOUR report" put me on edge!) but she kept her distance, crossed her arms, and she was probably standing up while I was sitting down (which makes her seem as though she has more authority or wants to assert her authority because of her position). She also didn't maintain very good eye contact with me, so I thought she was perhaps so angry she couldn't even look at me! Even though the message was the same, I think this delivery would have left me feeling agitated. All of the nonverbal communication that came with Jane's message this time left me feeling anxious and that would be the remaining feeling. There is no reviewing a face-to-face meeting.
Even though all three means of communication are effective, the deliver should learn about the receiver's communication style so she or he can avoid any miscommunications (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Project Management Concerns). Vince Budrovich said project managers should tailor the communication strategy to fit the specific needs of each stakeholder (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Practitioner Voices). For me, since this particular issue doesn't seem to be extremely pressing (hey−I don't even have to get my report done! I just have to get her the data), an e-mail is best. I am able to read it multiple times and use that same e-mail as a reminder, too. Plus it saves me from an awkward encounter that could be misconstrued to be something it isn't. However, others may feel differently so it is important that we get to know our team members and communicate in a way that is appropriate for them.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.) Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. [Video Webcast]. Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.) Practitioner Voices: Strategies for Working with Stakeholders. [Video Webcast]. Retrieved from
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  1. Lesley,

    Great blog post! You are right about panicking after reading the e-mail. I had often experienced moments of anxiety when data calls (requests for data from upper management that are priority above all other work assigned) came across my desk. All work stops until the data calls were completed.

    Although Jane was respectful of Mark's time, I interpreted her e-mail as very direct and to the point. As for the voicemail instance, I agree with your take that it did not sound as urgent and a bit laid back. Although Jane needed the report, a return phone call for a status update would have been sufficient.

    Wow! I found your analysis regarding the face-to-face encounter interesting. In my review, I found the encounter to have been the friendliest of them all. The reason I found your review interesting was based on the aspects of the body language and where Jane stood in relation to Mark. I missed the interpretation of her body language (arms folded) and her standing position (leaning over the cubicle) as being authoritative. I viewed these actions as totally opposite, where it was as if Jane was offering a hello and a reminder of said request. Dr. Stolovitch was right in his statement, 90% of communication is not in the words" (Laureate, 2010).

    Thank you for pointing these aspects out. You gave me more to thing about that I may have to view the video one more time!


    Laureate Education, Inc. (2010). Communicating with Stakeholders. [Video webcast].

    1. Thanks, Robin! The funny thing is that the message was the same every time but extra factors affected my interpretation. However, I think it also depends on the person. I am a perfectionist and it's hard for me to receive bad news like, "Hey, your part of the project isn't done yet and I need it for mine." That kind of stuff stresses me out! But if I get it in writing or as a voice mail, I have more time to process and get my mini-freak out over with before approaching the other party. I still take things too personally when it comes to work, so I hope if the project manager has worked with me before, he/she would know that they should send me a heads up if we were going to have a meeting about a problem or something. That would help me receive the message in the intended way. I really do think personality has a lot to do with it, so project managers better have ice breakers for unfamiliar teams! It could save them from uncomfortable meetings. ;-)

  2. Lesley,

    Great breakdown analysis. Everyone does interpret e-mails, voice-mails & face-to-face messages differently. The e-mail seems urgent & Jane is totally annoyed with Mark that he could be making her miss her deadline. I feel Jane is angry & this was her way of not getting into a conflict w/ Mark. The voice-mail, Jane's tone seemed to me as being frustrated & wants her data ASAP & by this means of communicating, she felt this was her way of getting her point across. As for the face-to-face, yes, Jane does not make much eye contact & crosses her arms & is standing outside Mark's cubicle, but seeing her facial expressions & her tone convinced me that this really needs to get done since Jane is my co-worker & I do not want her to miss her deadline because of me.


  3. Leslie,

    Great analysis, as always very thorough. I believe that via email, Jane kept it professional and to the point. I don't think Mark was able to understand her level of aggravation until he was able to see Jane face to face. While face to face seems to always be the clearer of all methods, it is sometimes difficult to be able to meet with someone face to face. Is there anything in the email you would have changed to ensure that Mark understands the importance of the matter?


  4. Lesley

    I enjoyed reading your post and how you felt during each of the various scenarios. What surprised me was that I felt the exact opposite of what you described you felt for each of them. To me the face-to-face was less confrontational then the email, but the phone message had a certain air of authority. I think it is because of my preference for more personal communication, such as the face-to-face that I do not mind it as much and I prefer it, good or bad, versus that over the phone or via email. Since I have a background in enforcement email to me is very authoritarian and it carries weight to it so I am more concern about that then face-to-face.
    I enjoyed your views on the three different types of communication and I will definitely look at the face-to-face one to try and pick up on the visual cues you talked about.

    I look forward to your future post.

    Mark Chamberlain