There are few things more frustrating to a project manager than team members who do not communicate. Non-communicators can single-handedly eliminate a manager’s visibility on a project and be a source of unforeseen, and therefore, uncontrollable risks.
Within this group, the most frustrating are those that ignore direct requests for information or who only talk when they feel like it.
- To the extent that a project manager can pick their own team, non-communicators are generally the last people picked.
- To the extent that a project manager can influence HR decisions, “better communication skills” is the area of improvement most often recommended for non-communicators.
- To the extent that a project manager can limit a non-communicator’s participation in a project, they will.
But when it can’t be avoided here are a few tips to managing a non-communicator on a project.
Find the communication medium that works best. Some people respond to phone calls, others to emails. Some respond to instant message and some prefer talking one on one. Find the medium that works best for that person and stick to it.
Experiment with Non-Traditional Ways of Communicating. All of the above mentioned media are conversations or openings for a dialog. They are in a question/answer or solicitation/response format. Some people simply don’t work that way. Get creative in finding other ways of getting information that don’t involve a “conversation.”
For example, I’ve worked with non-communicators who are best at giving information as it directly relates to the completion status of a task. Instead of asking how things are going, I’ve found it more valuable to assign a task in a project management tool and let them indicate its status. The options I set in the project management software are simple: done or not-done. To maximize the value of information from this technique start with the most detailed level of a task you can find. Think of it like 20 questions where the person can only answer yes or no. Make each question (or in this case, task) count.
Be Patient. People have their own time lines when it comes to answering questions. Don’t mistakenly categorize someone as a non-communicator just because they take a long time to respond to you. I know some people that take 10 minutes or more to respond to a question on instant message. It can be very frustrating when you are expecting an “instant” answer on “instant message” and instead, get a response 10 minutes later.
Sometimes, people are thinking about the answer. Other times, the answer might be more complicated than the asker thinks. Learn how long it takes people to respond and budget in the appropriate amount of time.
Know How to Get Information When You Absolutely Need It. The corollary to being patient is to have a clear way to get information in an emergency. For example, call the person on their cell phone or go directly to their desk. This requires that the project manager prioritize their information need or, at a minimum, have a clear understanding of when to really bother someone. To be effective, use emergency procedures sparingly or, like the boy who cried wolf, it becomes just one more thing the non-communicator doesn’t respond to.
Be Persistent and Consistent. Make sure you get answers to the critical questions you ask. Make it easy for a non-communicator to distinguish between hearing your communication and needing to participate in the communication by providing information.
In the best case, by finding ways to get the information you need from a non-communicator you can potentially find a new, more productive way to make use of their skills on your projects. And if that doesn’t happen, you can at least reduce unforeseen risks to your projects and increase visibility.