When communicating, we sometimes forget that having the recipient correctly understand the message is more important than the content or structure of the message itself. In our zeal to thoroughly document the full background on a decision, change request or other project information, we run the risk of losing our audience. While we might enjoy the “legal” benefit of being able to point to an obscure passage within a specific PM artifacts to state “I told you it was documented”, this is usually cold comfort for the project and probably us!
The severity of this risk gets worse when the message is directed to multiple recipients as the likelihood of missed details or misinterpretation multiplies. To reduce the probability of obfuscation realization, you could try some of the following suggestions:
1. Use a picture or example. You can test the efficiency and effectiveness of the communication by using the elevator pitch test – if you would be unable to convey the information during the course of an elevator ride, there might be a better way to structure the message.
2. Pay attention to the recipients. Regardless of how your message is delivered, keep an eye for signs of confusion or misinterpretation. These could include long e-mail discussions between the recipients clarifying content, excessive time spent stating (and restating!) the information, or obvious signs of confused body language.
3. Position the key message(s) first – regardless of the message or the medium, the “call to action” should show up first. It’s rare to meet a decision maker who has sufficient time to fully read an overly long communique, and you may have limited control over how the message is being reviewed (e.g. digitally spoken in transit from a received e-mail or read on a tablet).
4. Pilot it. If the outcome of the message is critical, you may wish to have one or two volunteers review the content to help you identify potential points of confusion.
5. Define the expected outcome and let that drive the message. If a project manager views a status report as being unnecessary bureaucracy, that will likely result in lower attention to detail and quality than if they view it as being a critical tool to drive action.
As senders, we are responsible for successful receipt of the message. Taking the time to avoid communication confusion is one way to help recipients hold up their side of the bargain!