Why interpersonal communication matters
Communication is the exchange of information between a sender and a receiver. This information can be transmitted not only verbally, but also non-verbally. Non-verbal communication includes gestures and facial expressions, the tone of voice that conveys feelings, as well as closeness and distance. For example, the supervisor would pat the employee on the shoulder, but the employee would not pat the supervisor, which is also a form of non-verbal interpersonal communication and shows that communication defines the interpersonal relationship.
Importance of communication in project management
To explain the process of communication simply, models such as Paul Watzlawik's or Shannon and Weaver's sender-receiver model are often used. In these, communication is depicted as the sender having the intention to send something. They encode it in speech, writing or body language and send it as a signal to the receiver. The receiver decodes the signal and reacts to it, which can lead to disruptions in the communication. For example, the sender may use the wrong words so that the receiver understands something other than what was actually said.
Another model that shows the importance of correct communication is the four-sided model by Friedemann Schulz von Thun. According to this, a statement can be evaluated on four levels and disturbances arise when the sender and receiver interpret the levels differently. One side is self-revealing, with which the sender only wants to reveal certain things. The relationship side is about how the sender relates to the receiver and what the receiver thinks of them. The factual side is about pure data and facts. And the appeal side says what the sender wants to achieve. So, there are many different levels on which something can be meant and on which something can be misunderstood. This again shows how important good interpersonal communication is and that statements should be formulated as precisely as possible.
The role of communication in monitoring and controlling projects and project success
With the help of a matrix, you can find out at what intervals you inform whom. This helps you keep track of who needs to be informed, when, about what and in what form. In this way, everyone is regularly kept up to date and the project can be completed successfully.
Challenges in communication in project management
One approach could be to orient communication to the communication style of Friedemann Schulz von Thun. Schulz von Thun emphasises that there is no such thing as one communication style. Therefore, it is always necessary to consider the context of the situation, including the previous history and the relationship to each other. The personality of the counterpart also plays a role, as a different style of communication and interaction may be required depending on the personality.
Overcoming language barriers and cultural differences
When working together in these teams, it is therefore particularly important to break down differences, overcome language barriers and respect other cultures. Especially as a project manager or in management, it is important to be open to different cultures, because it is important, for example, that all religious holidays are accepted.
Not everyone speaks the language very well, some members are native speakers, others are not. Therefore, it is an advantage to plan a preparation time for meetings, i.e., announce them early enough so that everyone can prepare for the meeting; native speakers can be asked to take a back seat to give everyone a fair chance. In order to achieve a project goal, it is important to work together and not against each other. Therefore, native speakers can also act as mentors or offer language courses.
As a team, team-building measures can also be carried out or intercultural skills can be promoted through training, as individual staff members can be sensitised and reflect on how they deal with the issue.
Conflict management and conflict resolution
Conflicts can also arise when individual interests are put aside in order to avoid conflicts. This can lead to dissatisfaction and has a high potential for conflict. It is important to recognize and resolve conflicts before they escalate and lead to even worse situations. Dealing with conflicts openly is particularly important.
There are various models that can help to understand and resolve conflicts. One of them is the iceberg model. It shows that about 80 per cent of our communication takes place below the surface, i.e., is not visible. This includes feelings, thoughts and opinions, but above all the relationship level. The remaining 20 per cent concern our superficial factual level. The model shows that most communication takes place non-verbally and below the surface. Therefore, it is important to be aware of this and to pay attention to it. Conflicts on the relationship level can go deeper because more emotions are involved. For example, disappointed expectations or role conflicts can arise when the boss expects something that cannot be fulfilled. The Johari window can be helpful in role conflicts because it shows how the team perceives a person and how one can reflect on oneself by comparing the self-image with the external image. In general, it is important to know the role of each person, as the way of communicating can be different depending on the role. You might tell the boss less about your weekend than your colleagues in the same office.
Conflicts on the factual level can arise, among other things, due to misleading information. It is advisable to always ask if something has not been understood and to work with feedback if necessary.
It is also beneficial to plan the conflict resolution meeting carefully. A fixed date should be agreed, and a framework should be set. At the beginning of the conversation, the goals should be clarified. Each party should be given sufficient time to present their point of view. It is important to listen actively and ask questions without interrupting the other party. Both parties should be willing to compromise and seek a solution together. If this is not possible internally, a mediator can be brought in to ensure that all parties remain on the level of the issue.
Dealing with stakeholders and their needs
Tips for successful interpersonal communication in project management
Clearly defined communication channels and guidelines
When dealing with customers, the telephone offers a direct and personal contact that enables the building of a relationship. In addition, information and offers can also be sent via newsletters or emails to address customers. Emails are particularly efficient, time-saving, flexible and accessible from anywhere, which makes them suitable for low-priority customers and stakeholders.
For internal staff meetings, feedback, conflict resolution or passing on information to important stakeholders, face-to-face communication or, if necessary, the use of video calls is recommended. Gestures and facial expressions can be evaluated. Training on the correct interpretation of non-verbal communication could be helpful for managers.
It is also important to adapt to the situation and the person you are talking to. Should the conversation be conducted in passing or in private? Multitasking can lead to misunderstandings or the wrong tone, which can unintentionally leave negative impressions. Therefore, it is important to explain terms precisely, to repeat ambiguities in other words and to choose the right tone of voice. If the conversation is conducted in passing, this can also be reflected in the body language, e.g. through a lack of attention or an absent face. Such signals can lead to interpersonal misunderstandings and should be consciously perceived. The attitude towards the other person plays an important role. Taking time to respond to the other person shows a high degree of emotional intelligence. In this way, your own feelings and those of others can be properly identified, understood and influenced. It is important to put yourself in the other person's shoes and ask yourself how you would feel if you could just see their back and realise that their mind was elsewhere. Awareness of one's own feelings enables good cooperation.
For this reason, it is important to always choose the right time to communicate and to be aware that communication is a two-way exchange in which both sides have their say.
Active listening and understanding the other point of view
By repeating what has been said in your own words, you have the opportunity to correct any mistakes and show interest at the same time. Gestures, facial expressions and posture can be very helpful. You should avoid folding your arms, as this could signal reluctance. An occasional nod, on the other hand, can be helpful.
If you make an effort to understand the other person's point of view, you can reach a result together that everyone is happy with. Even if the other person's point of view cannot be fully understood, a compromise should still be found. This is important for positive interpersonal communication as it shows respect.
Regular feedback rounds
Ideally, feedback is requested, i.e., the recipient is willing to hear something about themself. This shows that they are willing to learn, listen actively and ask for clarification. The feedback giver should try not to evaluate, but only describe what they observe. This way, the feedback receiver does not have to justify or defend themself. It is particularly helpful if the feedback giver starts with something positive, preferably with concrete situations, so that the statements are comprehensible. The recipient should not have to change their behaviour immediately but should have time to reflect on what has been said and draw conclusions from it. It is particularly important to follow these tips if a conflict has been going on for a long time. In such cases, a seemingly small problem can become bigger and bigger and cause unexpected emotions that make the situation even more difficult than it should be.
A special form of feedback is employee feedback. Things do not always go smoothly in the company and employees do not always have good days. Nevertheless, it is possible to review and evaluate the performance and skills of employees and then give them feedback. In this way, the performance of each employee can be improved by showing them what is going well and what could be improved. Ultimately, the company also benefits from this, as the potential of the team is increased and thus the project goals can be achieved. But also, the employees can give feedback to the managers, which enables them to improve their leadership skills.
Transparency and openness in dealing with problems and challenges
A good example is Scrum, which works with feedback loops. There is an open approach to problems that can be solved immediately. At first glance, it may look like there are only problems, but because of the immediate solution, it is rather an advantage and thus ensures transparency and openness.