The Art of Effective Communication

September 22, 2011 at 10:00 pm 5 comments

This week, we reviewed a piece of communication from one colleague to another requesting an estimate of when the requestor could expect a report. She needed the data in the report in order to move forward in her own work. If she could not get the report in a timely manner, she wanted her colleague to at least send the data. The same message was conveyed in three ways – email, voicemail and in person.

While the e-mail was straightforward, it may not have clearly communicated the requestor’s deadline. Had I been the recipient, it would have been one of hundreds of e-mails I receive everyday asking for something. The requestor asked her colleague for an estimated completion time and mentioned an impending deadline but was not specific about when she needed the information. Had I been the recipient, I would have to make a decision about where to prioritize this amongst all of the other requests, and may not have put it as high on the list as the requestor needed. The voice mail communicated the same information, but because of the audio, it also conveyed a tone that suggested a sense of urgency. The fact that she left a voice mail would have signaled to me that she needed the information right away since no leaves a voice mail these days unless the matter is urgent. In this case, the task would have risen higher on my to-do list than the e-mail. However, depending on what conversations preceded the message, it may have left me more annoyed than the e-mail. I might have felt pressure to drop everything I was currently working on and wondered why she didn’t ask for the report sooner. In the final communication, the requestor stopped by her colleague’s desk. She was able to communicate the importance of her message, but her body language suggested that the deadlines were manageable. Her physical presence meant that her colleague could ask about deadlines and the two of them could figure out exactly what she needed by when. The in-person conversation was probably the most effective way to deliver the message.

What does this suggest about the way we communicate on project teams? Clear communication is essential to the proper functioning of any project team (Portny, 2008). Teams use a combination of written and verbal communication to keep tasks moving forward. Written reports, e-mail, and other documentation are essential because they provide a written record of what is supposed to happen. Clear and detailed written communication is a way for team members to reflect back on what has been discussed and agreed upon. It is the best way to assure that everyone is on the same page.

However written communication has its limitations. People do not have the opportunity to ask questions or for clarification in written communication (Portny, 2008). Written communication is still open to interpretation and people may not receive the information in the way the sender intended. We derive meaning and understanding through interpersonal interaction and face-to-face communication is an important part of establishing trust (Stolovich). In this case, the requestor stopping by her colleague’s office was the most effective way to communicate what she needed, allow her colleague to communicate what he needed, and probably agree to a workable compromise. In addition, people on project teams can easily become overwhelmed with e-mails and documents to review. In person communication is a way to cut through all of the e-mail chatter. However, it is essential that important conversations be followed up with written communication. Again, this helps confirm what was discussed and also helps keeps other team members who may not have been part of the conversation in the loop.

This example illustrates the subtle but important nuisances in communication on project teams. There is an art to finding the best ways of being understood and motivating action. Various forms of written and informal communication have their strengths and weaknesses. In this case, e-mail was too easy to disregard and a voice mail may have made the situation sound like more of an emergency than it actually was. In person communication struck the right tone and opened the possibility for follow-up questions and clarification. Face-to-face communication is necessary for reaching mutual understanding, gaining trust and arriving at workable solutions. Written communication is necessary to confirm agreement and document plans. In either case, it is important that communication, whether it is written or verbal, is open, clear, concise and collegial.


Image of people talking. Accessed September 22, 2011 from|mt:2|

New Message Image. Accessed September 22, 2011 from|mt:2|

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Phone message image. Accessed September 22, 2011 from|mt:2|

Stolovich, H. “Communicating with Stakeholders.” Walden University.


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dbgregory  |  September 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm


    You did a great job of analyzing the differences between the email, voice mail, and the face-to-face communication modalities. The one thing that I realized during this exercise is that the receiver is very important aspect of the communication. As a project manager, I realize that it is important to make my communication as clear and concise as possible, but it is equally important for me to consider the preferences of the receiver. Budrovich (n.d.) states that the project manager must “tailor the communication strategy to fit the specific needs of each stakeholder.” If this message was for me, I would prefer an email so that I could reply immediately with the data that Jane needed. The project manager is responsible for understanding the relationships between project team members and stakeholders to truly be effective and successful.

    I enjoyed reading your post.

    Budrovich, V. (Speaker). & Achong, T. (Speaker). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders [Video podcast]. Retrieved from

    • 2. Alexis Williams  |  September 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Devise. Communication is clearly a two-way street. How you craft and deliver the message is only half of the equation. The other half is how the person receives and interprets it. It is important to think about stakeholder preferences when trying to identify the most appropriate communication strategies.

  • 3. Ian Josephs  |  September 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm


    I also enjoyed reading your post. But, I believe that in this situation the email although it may not be my favorite choice of communication, would be my most strategic modality out to the three that we have reviewed. From a business standpoint, any outstanding documentation that may jeopardize a deliverable deadline, the request for this documentation/report needs to be put in writing.

    Some may argue that sending an email to your co-worker is not an effective method of communication because the recipient may never read it. However, I have worked as a Microsoft email administrator and I can tell you there are some pretty creative things that can be done to enhance your project.

    Click on the link below and read this article to get some ideas The idea here is that an email serves as documentation of a communicative transaction. So, even if the recipient does not read/open a particular email, in the working world you have to use the most effect means CYA.


    Snook , J (2008, April, 21). Project Management via Email. retrieved September 09, 2011, from TIPS, TRICKS & BOOKMARKS Web Site:

    • 4. Alexis Williams  |  September 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Great point Ian. The best course of action in this situation might be to stop by the office to make sure the message was “heard,” and send a follow up e-mail to make sure there is a paper trail.

  • 5. katrina10  |  September 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm


    I too agreed that the third mode of communication was the most effective way. Do you however, think that the tone of the messenger in the voicemail message was done correctly? The messenger seemed to have a settled tone, although she was in need of the requested document, she did not ask for it in a demanding tone. Is there some benefit to the way she presented the message, or is delivering messages via voicemail an effective approach in the workplace?


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