I found myself watching a video on Youtube the other day, that was discussing the importance of authentic communication. Frankly, I found it a little bit wishy washy, and quickly moved on.
But later that day, I was turning over some of the current 'scenarios' on my To-Do list, and realised that there was a common theme - you guessed it, communication.
Having worked in technical service delivery for some time, while concurrently being involved in the business governance and management, there's a set of common communication issues that I regularly see, most often within general project management and service delivery. The below are concepts that we use in our business every day, and that I felt might be useful for others too.
Always saying Yes
We all know the old adage, 'The customer is always right'. This is a little outdated now, and is possibly best re-phrased as, 'Always make the customer happy'. Sometimes, to do that, you have to give honest advice on why a particular course of action isn't advisable.
It's better to do this, than to say Yes, knowing that problems are likely to arise. The same is true when it comes to time or budget. You don't have time, or the budget isn't sufficient, to do the thing you have just been asked to do? Say so, and communicate clearly why not and the implications on other items of work if you say Yes.
This is nothing new, but it's amazing how many people still haven't learnt this simple lesson. If you find it difficult to say No, the trick is in communicating why you are doing so. Actually, most people respect the openness and respect it demonstrates - that you care about wider and long term satisfaction more than keeping people happy in the short term. It comes down to professional integrity - are you willing to say Yes to a client, knowing that doing so will cause them or you problems that may compromise their happiness?
Not answering the question
Ever sent an email with a clear question (you know, with a question mark), only to get an email in return that seems to completely ignore your question? Or in some ways worse, answers one question, but not others.... Most of us have, so we know just how frustrating that can be. If you get asked a question, or multiple questions, make sure you answer them. If you don't know how, it is preferable to say you don't know the answer but will find out, than it is to just avoid it altogether.
I actually tend to copy any questions I receive, and re-paste them into my response, with my answer highlighted below. This is especially useful when you have multiple questions that you are dealing with, about finer details.
Not asking questions
If there's something you are unsure of, or that you need to know to answer a question properly, ask. Equally, if you suspect that someone might not be 100% happy, it is better to pre-empt a problem later on by checking in. It can seem daunting at first, but simply asking 'Is everything ok, and are you happy with where we are at?' is often enough to allay any feelings of uncertainty. It shows that you care enough to ask and that you are taking notice of any underlying messages in what is being said to you.
Remember that people are often hesitant to raise problems for a whole range of reasons. If there is something which needs to be addressed, knowing about it earlier rather than later is ideal - as we all know, problems unaddressed tend to get bigger.
I must admit, that in the past I have been guilty of this. It can take a range of forms, including not answering questions, but most commonly it involves providing only part of a piece of information in the hope that the issue will either disappear, or that you are buying yourself some extra time to deal with it.
All this does is demonstrate that you don't respect the person you are talking with enough to spend the time giving them all of the information they require. It also furthers the issue - more time passes and no resolution is achieved. It's really simple to deal with - if in doubt, provide more information rather than less.
Not picking up the phone
After you've sent several emails backwards and forwards without any clear movement or where it's becoming clear you are talking at cross-purposes, stop. Pick up the phone, call the person, and have a chat. Written communication is great for keeping a record of conversations and covering off details, but it has limitations.
You don't get any of the more subtle clues that you do when talking to someone, so if there's wires being crossed, email can just make the confusion worse.
What this all really comes down to is showing the proper respect for others when you are communicating with them. The key concept there being with, not at, or to. Think about how you like to be communicated with, and then do the same. Be diplomatic, but don't be vague - a little bit of directness can seem challenging but tends to lead to better results.