Guide to Skillful Communication - Pharmaceutical Executive

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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.

Successful Product Manager's Handbook


Flexible Communication Style

Flexibility is key to successful communication. To be flexible, you need to be aware of your own traits. Are you analytical, driving, amiable, or expressive? If you don't know, tools are available to help you discover your natural emotional tendencies. The Tracom Group, a workplace performance company, developed a program that can assess your emotional self. Knowledge of your own emotional style can help avoid communication pitfalls. For a self-assessment, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I like to communicate?
  • What modes of communication do I prefer?
  • How do I like others to communicate with me?
  • How do I approach one-on-one meetings with team members?
  • How would I describe my communication style in front of large groups?

Self-awareness naturally leads to an awareness of others. This allows product managers to identify the communication style of their team members and other key stakeholders. By understanding someone else's style, product managers can adapt their own communication style to match the other person's. This allows for comfortable interactions and an understanding of the other person's needs.

Large Company Challenges

If you played "Telephone" when you were a child, you already know why it's difficult to communicate in a large organization: The greater the number of people involved in the communication, the greater the likelihood a message will become distorted. What's more, large companies develop bureaucracy and red tape that can hamper even high-performance teams. This is where project managers can use their communication skills to their advantage.

When faced with a business process that could keep the team from working nimbly, a skilled project manager is able to leverage relationships—liaising with senior management, arranging face time with appropriate decision makers, and clearly communicating the predicament of the team. During meetings, the project manager can use emotional intelligence skills to gauge the decision maker's receptiveness to the team's situation. The product manager can then determine how flexible the organization is to modifications in its processes.

Change Management

Change is a constant for large companies. If not well managed, significant changes can have a devastating impact on teams.

As the central hub of information, the project manager is perfectly positioned to help the team cope with change in a constructive manner. By framing information honestly yet appropriately, a product manager with excellent communication skills can tremendously influence messaging throughout the organization.

For instance, on finding out there's a change to a project's priority level, a skilled project manager would:

  • Ensure he or she had a clear understanding of the change
  • Make sure key stakeholders were aligned with this understanding
  • Collaborate to assess the impact of the change on the project, program, and portfolio
  • Communicate the change and its impact to appropriate stakeholders, making sure the information is framed appropriately.

Decision Making

Teams frequently make decisions only to have them overturned down the line. By leveraging communication skills, project managers can play a key role in fortifying the resilience of a decision.

For example, when a team is tasked with making a decision, the project manager should ensure that the team has a clear strategic context for the decision.

In other words, a team should understand why the decision needs to be made and is of value to the organization at large. This facilitates the important work of outlining the decision-making process—setting timelines; coming to agreements on the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved; and identifying the final decision maker.

Effectively managing a team through a decision-making process is tedious work. It requires the project manager to communicate repeatedly with key stakeholders, and to manage the flow of crucial data informing a decision (as well as the expectations). Again, this requires a full set of communications skills, including active listening.

Listening Exceptional communicators know when to actively listen.

Active listening requires an ability to assess the speaker's nonverbal cues. It also requires empathy—the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, and to listen to them from their point of view.

Exceptional communicators are trained, not born. And it does not happen overnight. Project managers have an opportunity to hone their communication skills as they work within the team system. Successful teams enjoy working with a project manager who is a skilled communicator. It makes their job easier.

And skilled product managers soon discover the joy of accomplishing their work by being able to influence others over whom they have no direct authority.

Melanie Ebojo is a Senior Project Manager at Genentech, Inc. She can be reached at


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Source: Successful Product Manager's Handbook,
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