Anytime two or more people come together to work on a project, there’s a risk of misunderstanding. This could happen within a project team or between a freelancer and client or boss and employee. Quickly diagnosing and curing your communication issues can empower you to consistently deliver or receive on-time, on-point results that leave everyone delighted instead of disappointed.
To help you maximize your efficiency and effectiveness on your project teams, I’ve outlined three common communication challenges and some solutions to avoid or fix the issues.
Diagnosing a Communication Challenge
Sometimes something seems “off” in your collaboration, but you have trouble pinpointing exactly what’s bothering you. Before you determine a fix, you have to self-diagnose your situation. Below are three of the most common communication challenges. Also, it’s important to note that you may have different challenges with different people and/or as a project progresses, the communication challenges you face with someone may change.
Radio Silence: Too little communication that causes anxiety
Your communication challenge may fall into this bucket if you feel like your initial discussions were rushed. You don’t receive status updates frequently enough. You find yourself worrying or wondering about the project often. Potential problems don’t come out until it’s too late to easily solve them.
Constant Pings: Too much communication that leads to annoyance
On the opposite end of the spectrum, over-communication can also lead to stress. This occurs when you have endless meetings to discuss the project but little to no movement on actual execution. It can also happen when you find yourself fielding a continuous stream of questions, sorting through irrelevant information, and hearing about even the most minor of issues—that you aren’t even responsible for solving.
Disconnect: Miscommunication that creates frustration
Sometimes you have the right frequency and quantity of communication but there’s a lack of mutual understanding. Maybe you think that you know what other people want but when you show them what you’ve been working on, they’re disappointed. Other times you thought you had answered someone’s question but they’re still confused. Or worse yet, you both end up doing the same work or parts of the project get dropped because you thought they thought one thing and they thought you thought something else.
The 4 Communication Solutions
Although the communication challenges vary, the fundamental steps to solve them remain the same. To set yourself up for success on a new project or try to salvage one that’s veering off course, try these strategies:
1. Act fast
If you feel uncomfortable about the communication, don’t wait, hope for the best, or ignore it. Take action. Telling yourself, “I’ll deal with it later” only increases the chances of flared tempers and misunderstood expectations. Confront the issue. That could mean deciding not to proceed with a partnership because severe communication differences will cause inefficiency and stress. Or in the midst of a project it could mean setting up a conversation to work through next steps.
2. Clarify deliverables
A sure way to set both sides up for confusion and disappointment is to not know what you want, when you want it, and how you expect it to be delivered. If you don’t know the definition of “done,” pow-wow to determine it. You should get down to this level of granularity: “On August 10, we will have a landing page launched for the public, which includes a video of the founders and a newsletter sign up form.”
3. Set (or reset) expectations
Each individual has a natural communication style, but to work effectively within a team, you need to determine how much communication needs to happen to make everyone comfortable. This could mean requesting weekly status meetings or progress reports at certain milestones. Or it could look like setting up a series of “If, Then” communication triggers.
For example: “If you will be out of the office for a week, then give me a status report a couple of days before you leave.” Or, “If you encounter an issue that will lead to a delay, then notify me as soon as possible.” You can also ask for people to not communicate with you about certain things. For example: “Please, don’t CC me on every e-mail between you and the printer.” Or, “Please don’t tell me about issues if they’re problems you can fix yourself.”
4. Try a different method
Some people communicate brilliantly over the phone but jumble everything up by e-mail. Others do great with sketches but never understand your written descriptions. When in doubt, try a different format: write it out, talk through it, draw sketches, give examples, or do whatever you can to make the concepts in your head translate into something the other person can understand and vice versa.
If you’ve tried all of the above strategies and neither side feels satisfied, it could be time to part ways instead of continuing to feel frustrated with one another. Communication forms the glue of professional partnerships so without it, they can’t stick.
How about you?
What do you do when you don’t understand or aren’t understood?