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Informal And Formal Communications

Informal And Formal Communications

In international projects formal communications represent a risk. Every time you get up and make a formal presentation, you are risking quite a bit of the project. People may want to look good at your expense. You risk exposing your lack of knowledge and sensitivity to the culture in a location. Being in a formal presentation may feel threatening to the audience. They may feel that they have to do something. You have to make formal presentations and cannot avoid it. The guideline is:

Make as few formal presentations as possible.

What should you do? Concentrate on informal communications. Try to get to people to communicate one-on-one.

Informal communications are a critical success factor for international projects. You can bring people up-to-date on the status of the project. You can solicit their ideas about issues. You can get support in terms of resources. How do you arrange for informal, casual communications? Planning. Try to get to people in person or by telephone early in the morning in their time zone before they start work. If you can do this in person, run into them casually as they walk into work. Another good idea is to talk to them in the restroom or where they smoke (if they smoke). When people smoke, many tend to open up and talk more frankly and honestly about situations. If you are not a smoker, try to put up with second-hand smoke. These techniques sound crude and sneaky. But they work! For employees, go out where they have their breaks or lunch. Just sit there and listen. Then you can ask questions.

When you communicate with people informally, you should always have these three things ready at all times:

  1. Status of the project from their point of view.

  2. Issues that are active and unresolved that are of interest to them.

  3. A story or anecdote from the project that might be amusing or interesting to them.

Give them the status. Then if there is interest shown, move to issues. Put the story into your discussion when discussing the issues. On issues follow these guidelines:

  • Have three issues ready.

  • The first issue is a very small one that be disposed of quickly. This establishes a pattern of success in the meeting for dealing with issues. People are happy.

  • The second issue is a major political or business issue for which there is no immediate solution. They cannot give you one. They feel bad, because they could not help you.

  • With the pattern of success in dealing with the first issue and the guilt of the second issue, you can now discuss the third issue. This is the one that you really need a decision. They will tend to make decisions more readily.

Never, ever, go to someone with one issue. They will feel that you are putting their back up against the wall. You will not likely get the result you desire. Also, by going in with a group of issues, you show that you are top of the project from technical, business, and political perspectives.

You should keep a record of what people you have communicated with informally. Try to evaluate both your informal and formal communications. Figure 9.1 consists of a score card for your formal presentations. Figure 9.2 presents one for informal communications over a period of time in the project. Here are some added comments about some of the items in these figures:

Click To expand
Figure 9.1: Score Card for Formal Communications
Click To expand
Figure 9.2: Score Card for Informal Communications over a Period of Time

There is also the item in informal communications of the number of times that a manager brought up an issue to you first. What is this? If a manager calls you up or comes to you with an issue before you brought it up with them, you failed in communicating. Why? Because they were taken by surprise; surprises tend to be unpleasant. The person may think that you are not on top of your project. They may now feel that they cannot trust you as the only source of information about the project.

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