9.3. Common communication problems

There are a handful of reasons why communication breaks down. Every project manager needs to be familiar with these reasons to identify them in others and their own behavior and to take responsibility for working to resolve them whenever they occur. In many teams, these behaviors exist because the group manager either exhibits them herself or tolerates them in others. Until someone with some authority steps in, identifies the problem as a communication issue, and takes at least partial responsibility for helping to sort it out, those bad communication habits will continue.

This short list covers many of the common communication problems, briefly describes why they occur, and offers some simple advice for avoiding or recovering from them.

  • Assumption. When you walk into someone's office and ask him why he hasn't sent out that important email yet, you're assuming that: a) he knew he was supposed to send it; b) he knew when he was supposed to send it; c) he understood what was supposed to be in it; and d) he was supposed to notify you somehow when he did it. Before yelling at this person (let's call him Sam), or blaming him, good communication involves clarifying these assumptions. "Sam, did you send that email yet?" Sam replies, "What email?" "Sam, remember yesterday we spoke in the hall and you confirmed you could do this?" "Oh yes, I sent it a few minutes ago." Good communicators habitually clarify assumptions during discussions at key points, ...

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