Communication for project managers

Introduction to the series.comms encoding

This series was inspired by the growing concerns expressed by project managers about the demands being placed on them to be communicators, ambassadors, PR experts and even Marketers as they attempt to deliver complex change projects into organisations, especially in the IT field but not exclusively.
Whether you are moving 1000 people to a new location or asking them to stop doing things the way they do and trust you that a new system will work better, the challenge has been raised and if you are not equipped to meet it your project stands a poor chance of succeeding.

About the author
Before you even consider communication with any audience from one person to 100 million people, you need to first gain their respect and trust. If you don’t, why should they listen to you.
Just like you they are bombarded with messages all day every day and they only have time to listen to a choice few that come from trusted sources , that gain their attention and arouse their interest.
Gain  their respect.
Don’t assume that these people know who you are and respect your knowhow, or your authority as the case may be. If you are sent by the CEO, then tell them up front and try to get some demonstration of this from the CEO. If you are offering them expertise, then tell them about your skills and background so that they can judge it for themselves.

Gain their trust

Trust is the most important part of communication by a long shot. Respect and trust are related, but not the same. You can win respect through winning trust, but not necessarily the other way around.
If I am to interrupt my busy day to listen to what you have to say, I need to feel I can trust it.
The best way to win trust is to genuinely be interested and concerned about the other person or the audience. You can’t fake this, unless you have shared experiences and shared fears, hopes, or aspirations, then you will struggle to be convincing. Unless you already have this shared experience, then the simple and the only way to achieve it is to clear your mind of all preconceptions and start listening, start asking questions, questioning the answers and listening with every fibre.
The more you listen, the more you will learn. The strange thing about listening is that not only do you learn a lot, but you start to make a lot of friends effortlessly.

What  you are listening for

First what you are not listening for, you are definitely not listening for hooks to  let you push your story down their necks. You should be listening to what they are saying at face value. You should also be listening for the unsaid things, the little gaps in the logic and the things left for you to imply. These latter are the things you need to question to make sure you get the truth. If you are a walkover and you get it wrong, you won’t win much respect.

Be truthful. If you don’t agree say so. This way you will still find many that agree and others that make allowance, you might even learn something.  If you are false, you will be caught out and lose all credibility.

You are also listening for communication styles the way they express ideas, the vocabulary they use, any analogies they use when discussing the issues and the general attitudes that prevail in that audience to prepare you for how to word your communications. More about this later.

You are listening for differing groups in your audience, I.E different perspectives or different ways of framing the same thing. E.G. Board directors probably have a very different viewpoint on a shop floor issue than the blue collar workers do. Later you will need this knowledge when we come to segmentation.

You are also listening for their motivations, you want to know what would be the thing that would make them most enthusiastic and what would be least motivating to be able to offer to them.

You are also listening for indicators of who their influencers are, who else do they listen to and trust and why. It may be Unions, it may be certain newspapers or magazines, or a TV show. Knowing this will help you to communicate effectively with them.

Listening is a learned skill and only practice will perfect it, it ,may also be a bit of a change for som people, I promise you that if you will try it out for a week, with no motive other than to see what happens, you will never regret it.

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Communication for project managers-teaching skills

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Part two -Get your point accross

Read Part one

Basic teaching skills

I use the word teaching because there is really no difference between teaching/learning and communication of any other sort.  Your role is to help people understand the concepts you are communicating and to see the world in the same way that you want them to and to learn to see it the way they do in order to improve your ability to communicate with them.

People develop immunity to certain words and phrases and styles of communication.  E.G. ” Closing down sale” is unlikely to conjure up images of a shop about to close and selling premium stock very cheap.  If you are hoping to convince wealthy shoppers to read your message, this is probably not the way to go.
Much like a spammer who avoids certain words that get picked up by spam filters, you need to carefully craft your messages so that they are not rejected instantly as a result of being associated with boring messages that never are interesting or official stuff that nobody ever reads.

Communication styles

 Try to aim your communication style so that it appeals to everyone. Your readers or listeners will use different styles to deal with your messages. Some imagine pictures, other listen to the message and yet others concentrate on the feelings it engenders. You need to try and ensure that it meets the needs of each type of recipient.

Use analogy to simplify complex messages

Finally you must make maximum use of analogy as a way of explaining complexity to a lay audience.
Compare your ideas to parallel ideas that people will already understand. E.G.  “A DNS server is just like a dictionary where you can put in a name and get back the correct number. We do this because remembering the names is easier for people, but the numbers are easier for machines.” An example added to this makes it easy to understand and memorable. The more colourful  the example the more memorable.

Use comparison to establish a position

A position means a way you relate me, or my project  to others. I would like you to see me as the Bentley of Project managers. That way I am assuming that you rate the Bentley very highly as a Moto car and by association you would then rate me very highly.

 By taking some time to understand your audience and to plan your communication style and content, you can achieve a great deal more with your communications and make life easier for yourself on all fronts.

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Negotiation skills for project managers


An absolutely key skill that no project manager can go out without is basic negotiation skills.
From achieving consensus among stakeholders to getting the right procurement contract and managing exceptions, the one thing you absolutely MUST HAVE is the ability to negotiate effectively.

Here’s a few golden rules to help you negotiate more effectively whatever your position may be:

  • 1. Always aim to start and end your negotiation procedure on a high note. Be positive going in and be positive when you walk away from it, whether it is an adjournment for another day or the final handshake time. What I mean by leaving on a high note is that everyone should feel that they have achieved something, even if they worked hard for it and that they could comfortably return to do business with you again.
  • 2. Create a terms of reference at the outset. This will often be a fairly low key statement that frames the negotiations as opposed to a formal written invitation, but one way or another it is important that everyone knows what is at stake and why they are doing it.
  • 3. Decide in advance what your walk away scenario is, and what you want out of it and make sure the negotiating team are all clear on this. Place nobody on the team who might have any reservations about your goals.
  • 4. Research the other side and gather every scrap of useful information that might help you to understand their goals and to predict their walk away positions.
  • 5. Decide your beginning position and bear in mind that this will have a substantial impact on the outcome. E.G. In a sale negotiation it is proven that the higher price at which you begin the higher price you will reach agreement at. It is also useful to recognise that too high a starting point may prevent the negotiations beginning.
  • 6. If possible retain a refer to authority that allows you to take time out before deciding.
  • 7. Drink water twenty minutes before beginning, it is believed to make you concentrate better.
  • 8. Listen attentively to the other side, question every point and every request until it is crystal clear before making any attempt to respond to it.
  • 9. If you reach a situation at any point where you are not able to get agreement, set that point aside to return to later and move on with matters that are easier to agree.
  • a. Return to the set aside points when the negotiations are in a positive mood after a number of easy agreements and a lot of progress has been made, it should be easier then to reach agreement.
  • 10. Aim to reach a final situation where both sides feel that have won. If you can’t do that then keep on negotiating till you reach a position that fits your starting criteria.
  • 11. Be wary of making it personal, stick to your stated goals and avoid being baited, or finding yourself in competition with other individuals, it’s all about reaching an acceptable agreement.


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Persuasion for project managers

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 This blog is intended to give a simple no nonsense overview of persuasion based on a single universally accepted theory that can be adapted to any set of circumstances, but I have presented it in a way that is focused more closely on the needs of the project manager.

Six laws of persuasion

Cialdini‘s six laws of persuasion goes like this:

Law of Reciprocity

People tend to help those who have helped them or shown willingness to help.  Marketing departments give small unsolicited gifts in the expectation that a sense of duty will result in the recipient reciprocating. It works.

The project manager can use this law by getting to understand the needs of his/her stakeholders and staff and helping them when he gets an opportunity. The result will be reciprocation when in need of help or goodwill.

Law of Commitment and Consistency

People don’t like to be seen to change their stance on things once they have gone public. They believe that it is a sign of weakness. They will often stick to their guns even when it is costing them money or reputation.

Don’t under any circumstance place key people in a position to oppose your goals early on, because you will face an enormous uphill struggle to affect any sort of change.  Create a situation whereby you are in agreement about something and become allies early on, then respect that relationship by providing a robust rationale for everything you ask of them.

Law of Liking

People do business with people they like and the best deal gets refused when the salesman is someone they dislike or mistrust. We tend to like and trust people who are like us and share experiences.

It’s not necessary to become like someone to get on with them, only to find and focus on the areas you genuinely share interests in ,or experiences you have shared. This is easier than it sounds. You may not play golf, if you are a parent, you have something you can share passionately with Tiger Woods.

Law of Scarcity

Nobody is highly motivated to buy something when there’s plenty of it around, but when it’s the only one in the shop, suddenly it takes on a whole new dimension and you can become obsessed with acquiring it. Don’t make your deal, your proposition or even you too unattractive by making it too readily available.
Be approachable, but decisive and in possession of other options when you present an opportunity to someone to come on board with you. It’s down to you to make sure those options exist and that they are real and believable.

Law of Authority

Marketers and sales-people use testimonials to lend authority to their products.  In management you gain authority by supporting highly cherished beliefs and  goals, by working towards important KPIs, by demonstrating the support of your superiors and that of other important stakeholders.

Law of social proof

Social proof is the idea that everyone is on board with this idea and that to reject it would mean being left out.  One on one persuasion sufficient to get attendance a t a group event is often the best starting point, once they are all in the room you have produced the first element of social proof, now you have to maintain their interest.

 A simple process that may help

This is a process I learned in my marketing days and is widely used for things like writing copy or creating presentations.  It’s easy to remember  AIDA  pronounced “ayeeda” and it goes like this:


First get their attention any way you can.


Now maintain their interest enough to keep reading or listening. This usually requires well presented arguments and rationale.


Make them really want to do this, buy this, be part of this.  This is where your colourful pictures, happy sounds and warm fuzzy feelings come in useful. Once they see themselves in that picture, they are yours.


Don;t wate it all, call for action. It could be enquire now, download this paper, sign here, or a simple question like “what’s the next step?”, but you must conclude the conversation.


That’s it.  Watch the adverts this evening and start noticing how they do this,  especially the lenghts they go to to get your attention and to get you seeing the pictures that will convince you.




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Motivating people for project managers

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Outside of the area of direct sales and many would argue to include that too, there has been a momentous movement away from good old fashioned man management techniques. (please read Man to mean both genders, this is an old term well worth revisiting).

Some blame Matrix management, others blame the growing influence of HR for disenfranchising managers, I blame managers for simply being lazy and blind to the blatantly obvious. I also blame the prevalence of methodology and process as a substitute for management skills rather than a supporting platform.  Managers who used to read “the one minute manager” on the train are now reading “Idiot’s guide to the latest Microsoft gadget”

As we moved from a blue collar workforce to a white collar one, the importance of personal motivation as a factor in performance has become more and more important.

As project managers, we take responsibility for a very important part of the organisation’s future and in doing so we become the spearhead and leader of select group of people deemed sufficiently knowledgeable and capable to help us make it happen. More often than not, these are the future stars of the organisation. Our job as project managers is to lead them. To do this, we will need to demonstrate ability, skills and personal motivation and we will need to respect and understand the factors that motivate the people we are tasked with leading.

Since this is a blog rather than a book, a detailed discussion is outside of it’s scope, so I will leave you with one big idea to begin with.
“With the possible exception of your mother, nobody will ever do anything for you, they will do it for themselves. The key therefore to getting others to do what you want done is to understand what would make them want to do it.”

If you really believe that you can substitute the fear card for motivation you are simply delusional, even basic humping and carrying can’t be managed this way alone for any length of time and that outpuut is clearly and easily measurable, unlike intellectual products.

Abraham Maslow introduced his theory of human motivation in 1943

 Maslow Hierarchy of needsIn this simple, but profoundly valuable theory, he explained how human motivations are built on each other and how each individual is striving for the level directly above the one they are at. It’s a simple concept and sufficient to understand the basics and begin to probe and understand the motivational needs of your people.

If John has no home he is very unhappy, but as soon as he gets one, he starts to be motivated by making it secure for next year and thereafter. When John has no friends he is concerned about making some, but no sooner has he done that than he wants to be friends with people that will make him look better.

Getting to know people in informal ways reveals things about them and this informal knowledge builds up an instinctive feel for what will motivate them.

The first time I used Maslow to advantage, I was in charge of a sales-force with shrinking sales in the face of a gripping recession. It was a vicious circle, they were de-motivated by recession and hence their performance fell just when it needed to rise. I was told to make cuts and not given much time to do it in. I responded by increasing their salary and removing their bonuses for all but the highest performances.
That may sound contra to every instinct, but it worked incredibly well. When I took away the fear about meeting the spiralling mortgage, they were motivated again.  Just as Maslov had told me, they were not really that motivated by the size of the pay cheque, but I got more mileage out of a few certificates and trinkets and exculsive clubs for high performers.  It worked and it did me no harm either.

Project management is not just about fiddling with Gantts and looking for inspiration, it is about getting off your seat, getting to know people and helping them to help you through helping themselves.

 Further reading

If you found Maslow useful, you may want to do some searches on Hetzberg Motivation-Hygiene theory


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