Guide to Skillful Communication

In this day and age of constant communication, why is it so often difficult to be understood? For product managers it is not a question to be taken lightly. Effective communication is crucial to the success of their jobs.
Mar 03, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Product managers are hubs of communication. Research shows that out of 50 competencies for the product manager, verbal communication is among the top five, and listening among the top ten.

At first glance, communication may seem elementary—we send and receive messages all the time. And yet we are misunderstood all the time, too. The truth is: Effective communication, especially on the job, is multifaceted and requires a skill set all its own. Studies have shown that successful communicators are:

  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Sensitive to body language
  • Skilled in working with different styles of communication.

Pharma product managers are further challenged by the myriad organizational structures companies employ—but especially the increasingly popular matrix.

Communicating in the Matrix

The matrix management structure is designed to allow team members to share information across task boundaries. Members reside within their department with like specialists, but their day-to-day activities involve working on teams with diverse specialists.

For example, in the matrix, project managers live within the project management department, where they are part of a hierarchy of project managers. Each project manager, however, spends the majority of his or her time working with a team made up of subject-matter experts from Regulatory Affairs, Manufacturing, Commercial, and so forth.

One challenge of matrix organizations is that team members are accountable to their line management, as well as to the team. This accountability to disparate entities creates fertile ground for misalignment because the department's objectives will often differ from the team's.

To perform well in a matrix structure, product managers need a complete set of communication skills. Active listening, an appreciation for nonverbal cues, and emotional intelligence can help the project manager stay aware of team concerns and organizational interests. And excellent written and verbal communication skills, combined with flexibility and good interpersonal skills, enable the product manager to disseminate information successfully and in a manner that will be well received by its intended audience.

Emotional Intelligence In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence (EQ) as emotional self-awareness—an ability to manage emotions and handle relationships well. Emotional control, he adds, cannot exist without self-awareness.

Emotionally intelligent product managers are therefore sensitive, agile, and empathic. They can change their communication approach should the need arise and tune into levels of communication that may be more telling and important than what's conveyed by words alone.

Body Language In-person communication includes three fundamental building blocks—words, tone, and body language. Body language describes a valuable and often overlooked manner of communicating through nonverbal cues—gestures, facial expressions, and open/closed body positions.

According to Albert Mehrabianan, an expert on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages, a listener derives far less meaning from a person's words (7 percent) than from tone (38 percent) and body language (55 percent).

Successful product managers know how to pick up on another person's gestures and facial expressions. When body language is at odds with what is being said, it is a bold indicator that the message is not being understood, which gives the product manager an opportunity to clarify.

In turn, product managers, who often function as the voice of the team, need to be careful they're not giving out mixed messages themselves. To ensure clarity, they need to make sure their words, tone, and body language are in sync.

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