How I Do It: Communication Tools & Tips

Today I’m shining a spotlight on how I manage my projects. I’m particularly interested in the communications between people on projects and regular readers will know that, as I cover it a lot.

I wanted to tell you how I run stakeholder communications on my projects (I’ve also covered the ‘how’ of stakeholder comms before). Not because I have amazing results from the strategies I use or anything, but because it’s always interesting to find out how other people do it.

You can’t communicate to people if you don’t know who they are. Grab a free stakeholder register from my project management resource library. Then you can record who’s who on your projects and make the whole communication thing much easier.

Communication Strategy #1: Meetings

I don’t avoid meetings. In a recent discussion on someone commented that the goal should be no meetings, but I don’t think that’s feasible or realistic on the projects I do.

However, I do aim for as short as possible and as infrequently as possible. In reality 45 minutes once a week is my norm. I don’t remember the last time I had a regular team meeting face-to-face. With a team split all over the place we do them on the phone.

If you have good collaboration tools then maybe you can get away with fewer meetings as long as your tools are adopted and really do meet the needs of the team in terms of working together.

I do tailor project meetings to the stage of the project. We have more meetings with more senior stakeholders in the early days, and then again towards the close. In the middle it’s more operational meetings to keep the project moving on. I include these because I feel strongly that the project team is also a stakeholder group in the project, so they need the same consideration and respect around project comms as anyone else.

I talked more about how I split my time and who gets communications when in this article about engaging stakeholders.

Communication Strategy #2: Phone

As I mentioned above, I use the phone a lot for team meetings. Having said that, I rarely text stakeholders. I’ll reply to texts but I don’t ever really think about them as a first choice when I need to say something.

On days where I need to get a lot done I will default to the phone, but generally my personal communication preference is…

Elizabeth Harrin standing in front of a building talking on a cell phone

Communication Strategy #3: Email

I love email. I don’t love the feeling of information overload when my inbox spills over 100 messages, but I do love email.

I’m a writer. What would you expect? I type quickly too.

So: Email, Phone or Other?

I choose based on what’s easiest for me but also on what I’m communicating.

You should define what the message is, who it is going to and then work out the best way of getting the message across.

Don’t let people tell you that you shouldn’t ever use a particular way of communicating. No way is inherently bad for communicating but you should bear in mind that they are all good for different things.

Getting the Tone Right

I try to adopt a professional and polite tone, erring on the friendly. I can pull out my stern voice for when actions aren’t getting done. It’s the same one I use for when my pre-schoolers draw on the dining room walls with chalk.

It really depends on what I want to achieve and who I’m talking (or writing) to.

You know your team members best and the right tone for your communication heavily depends on the culture of the organization.

Other Comms Tools I Use

Here’s a picture of the other types of communication tools that I have used on projects, today and in the past.

List of project communications tools

Basically, I try to use loads of methods because it’s more interesting for me and more relevant for the people receiving the messages.

Plus, different methods give you different feedback loops, because communication isn’t a one-way thing. You’ll get more feedback from a presentation than a desk drop (that’s a paper leaflet you leave on someone’s desk the morning a change goes in or a project goes live, telling them what’s new), so again, it depends on what I am trying to communicate and who to.

Communications To Persuade

Most of what I’ve said so far is fine if you are just generally briefing people, or managing the day-to-day stuff on projects. You need to take a slightly different approach when trying to persuade people.

I’ve had a chequered track record in the persuasion stakes, from managing just fine to failing miserably and on one notable-for-the-wrong-reasons occasion pulling rank when my persuasion techniques didn’t work. Not my finest leadership moment.

I try to look at what’s in it for them, seeing the situation from their point of view. It’s no different to persuading a toddler to go to bed, although I’m failing pretty badly on that right now too.

There’s also a distinction to be made on some projects between persuading and telling. Depending on the project I sometimes do find myself in situations where I can tell someone that’s how it is going to be. If you are working on a mandatory, legal or regulatory project then you may find yourself in a similar place.

If you need to convince someone to help out with a task then you are persuading. Things I have tried when persuading that work OK:

  • Getting their line manager involved and supportive of the task.
  • Stressing the benefits of the training, experience, exposure, learning opportunity, networking etc that the project will offer them.
  • Avoiding being patronising (but you’d do that anyway, in all comms, wouldn’t you?). If they don’t understand, explain rather than roll your eyebrows. Even if you are doing it for the 50th
  • Avoiding jargon and talking “their language”.
  • Thinking about what you can offer them in exchange.

It really helps to know what motivates the individual(s) if you have the time to work that out. Often I don’t but I can guess.

My Stakeholder Communication Tips

The two top tips I have for you based on my experience at talking to hundreds (thousands??) of stakeholders in my years of managing projects are:

Communicate the benefits. Constantly reiterate the benefits of the project and the value that your project is adding to the company. Do this in language that stakeholders understand, using terms and reference points that are relevant to them.

Communicate more than you think you have to. It’s very hard to communicate too much. If you’ve ever had someone ask you a question and think, “We covered that in the team meeting last month!” or, “Didn’t they read the email?” then you’ll know where I am coming from. People are busy and often the comms you send won’t reach them at a convenient time. Do it over and over again and try to stop before people think you are boring.

Don’t forget to download your free stakeholder register template from the resource library!

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