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Informal communication: what are people really saying about your project?

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People can be ambassadors or liabilities on a project – what they become can be handled when you actively encourage positive, informal communication.

When we talk about effective communication or developing communication skills in a project environment, we are most often referring to formal communication such as meetings, status reports, emails etc.

But what about the informal communication? The everyday conversations at the coffee machine, the talk in the pub after work and, of course, the rumours? Informal communication can positively or negatively affect a project without senior executives even being aware of it.

Beyond the project, negative views, valid or not, could be spreading far and wide, including on social media. Left unchecked, negative everyday talk can eventually damage company reputations and their bottom line so actively promoting positive conversation is vital to avoid this.

But just how can you actively promote positive conversations and avoid negative talk in the first place to ensure people are the best advocates for a project and their organisation?

Causes of negative informal communication

It’s hard to keep everyone happy all of the time but there are some fundamental ways to avoid causing people to become angry or dissatisfied. And it’s not difficult… it simply comes down to being honest and fair, and giving people a voice.

Honesty doesn’t mean hiding bad news but communicating it sensitively and sincerely. For instance, when major projects, as they so often do, mean strategic change within an organisation it’s better that people are involved at an early stage of the change initiative so their opinions and ideas can be heard than to have the change imposed on them. When people are excluded from decisions that affect them, and unable to contribute ideas and solutions, this can result in damaging, negative talk.

Not treating everyone fairly is another way of generating negative emotions and negative talk. If someone receives unfair treatment, it will quickly become common knowledge.

Build strong, positive relationships

Avoiding damaging informal communication is more important than ever in our always-on digital world. Bad news can be spread so quickly that it’s important to focus effort on building strong, positive relationships within, and between teams and departments. Then when bad news does occur the culture of trust and loyalty will minimise any negative talk.

When people trust each other at all levels they can weather bad news. When communication is open and honest, and when people feel involved in changes that affect them, they are better able to understand the reasons for decisions even if they don’t like them.

Final thoughts

Internal communication may not always be as positive as we hope, yet avoiding it seems relatively simple. Building strong, positive relationships between people, teams and departments can help avoid any internal communication that may damage a project, department or even a whole organisation. But is it really that simple? How realistic is it to devote time and energy to building relationships when under pressure to just get the job done?

I know what I believe – what’s your view?

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Image: Julia Lazebnaya/


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