It's not just what you say...

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Social networking tools are increasingly being adopted by organisations in order to improve communication with stakeholders, including between project team members.  The wide range of options available, from community newsletters to the World Wide Web, enables greater flexibility in the way a project can engage with all sorts of different interested parties.  With ‘smart’ phones becoming even more commonplace we can choose to be informed of changes and status updates in real time almost wherever we are.  But does this information come at a cost?

The amount of information available means that people risk being swamped, and losing sight of what’s important. With an array of emails, blogs, instant messaging, wall posts, texts and tweets, the trend appears to be towards condensing information into ever smaller ‘easily digestible’ amounts. Most people will already have come across key stakeholders who struggle to get further than an executive summary, but how long before even that summary is expected in a ‘tweet’ size!

I was recently reminded of a powerful statistic from Professor Albert Mehrabian’s studies on communication. Known as the balance between the Verbal, Vocal and Visual (‘3 Vs’) broadly speaking the assertion is that 7% of a message is communicated using the words; 38% is communicated through the tone of voice; and 55% relies on body language. 

The tone and behaviour are especially important to understand how an individual feels about the message they are communicating, which is crucial to anyone trying to motivate and inspire a team.

Words themselves are extremely powerful – but to be communicated effectively an idea needs to be conveyed in context and in plain English, and people should resist the urge to cut corners with acronyms or online shorthand (text-speak).  It’s hard to argue that you can engage stakeholders too much, and social networking in all forms provides a fantastic level of flexibility, but with communication as with most tools and processes there is a fine balance to be found between doing the right thing and doing things right.

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Posted by Alastair Smart on 20th Jun 2011

About the Author
I'm a full member of the APM and was previously a People SIG committee member. I am also a PMI member and certified PMP, and a Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) Practitioner. I have supported MoD Project Teams within the Submarine and Land Equipment Operating Centres, including work to improve project management culture as part of a major change management project; and am currently working in Ottawa supporting the Canadian DND (Maritime Equipment Program Management) organisation.

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