FM professionals know that technical and business skills are vital and that their tactical responsibilities need to be handled efficiently and consistently demonstrated. These need to be communicated at both an operational and strategic level which includes keeping clients and end-users informed about such factors as the potential impact of their decisions, timeframes, costs, regulatory compliance, and business risks as well as providing guidance and advice to create an optimal, safe and cost-effective environment in which the occupants can function.
Research has highlighted that communication is a determinant factor of project quality and is crucial to realise business goals and objectives, which will ultimately result in meeting the needs of your clients. The quality of our communication is a major source of information that our clients rely on to evaluate our competence and the value of our work. Therefore, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing our own soft skills and well as existing staff or recruiting for, their soft skills, including relationship management, collaboration, problem-solving and most importantly communication.
As an MBA student I recently undertook many semi-structured interviews with FM managers and experts within the Canterbury region which reinforced this message. While there were many themes that emerged during the data analysis when asked what could FM providers do better or what the greatest issue was, the Number One factor that these experts stated related to communication. Comments included:
- Everyone needs to talk to each and I will only use contractors who do communicate and keeping me informed of what’s going on
- Tell me when something is going wrong, be open and honest and set expectations upfront
- Be open around the pricing – give me options
- If you’re doing repetitive tasks and something is coming to the end of the life – tell me so we can do something about this
- Tell me what value are you’re going to bring to me as a client
George Bernard Shaw once famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Communication is a process because of its dynamic nature and is two-way with the trading of opinions, ideas, concepts and goals. We may believe we are communicating appropriately but it is more than just obtaining or providing information. It also means that the information must be credible, heard by the right people at the right time, and lead to an appropriate response. Experts at the University of Maine believe effective communication can help build trust and promote increased comprehension of issues and concepts.
Effective communication assists with defining and sharing business objectives, achieving cost certainty and ensuring a timely delivery of quality services. Bad communication can result in adding significant costs, creating inefficiencies, project failure, missed opportunities and can also have far reaching implications, such as loosing contracts and reputational damage. All else being equal those organisations and individuals who communicate well will do better than those who don’t.
A variety of factors, including cultural differences, background noise and language problems, can disrupt and act as barriers to communication. There are however several actions we can undertake to improve the effectiveness of our communication.
According to Phil Simon, a keynote speaker and author of Message Not Received, he believes that we must do two things to assist in improving business communication. Firstly, to use simpler language – remove the use of buzzwords, jargon and acronyms as they lower the chance that your message will be received and understood. Secondly, he recommends reducing our dependence on email as the default for communicating. He is not saying that email is bad but rather how we use it. This point was supported by those FM experts that I spoke to.
Benefits of email include that is easy to use, messages are delivered quickly, it’s reliable, cost-effective and provides legitimacy of the message. However, it is also highly evasive, and emotions are often missed or misinterpreted. It can also prolong a debate and promotes a reactive response rather than action to move forward. Its speed can create an unrealistic expectation of rapid response and there are at times where a conversation needs to be kept private. For example, an email can become public record for local, central government and their agencies.
Sivasankari Rajkumar presented a paper at a PMI Institute conference where he recommended the following tips when using email:
- Avoid using email for any sensitive topics;
- Assume that everyone in the company will read your emails;
- Make sure that the title of the email is either very specific or very general; and
- Avoid using email to discuss an issue in any depth.
Other points that I believe relevant and will assist improving communication performance include:
Listen more than you speak and make sure that when you are listening you are fully attentive and your focus is on the speaker. Ask good questions. Good listening is much more than remaining silent while the other person talks. It requires asking good questions and showing genuine interest in people’s responses as well. Giving your undivided attention will help to build strong relationships.
Think before you speak
Pausing before you speak will allow you to carefully consider what you are saying and demonstrates to the other person that you are listening to what they have said. It also applies with digital communications – before you click send, read over what you have written. A simple typo can give an unprofessional impression to a client or team member.
Tell the Truth
Make sure your facts are accurate and don’t make false promises or leave people to make assumptions. Be wary of not making promises that you will not be able to deliver.
It is of vital importance to practise inclusivity and treat people equally. This includes having an understanding that all people have different strengths and weaknesses and to treat everyone you encounter with the same level of respect. Empathise with other perspectives and always try to imagine yourself in the others’ shoes.
Cut to the chase
Keep your messages concise and informative. If not, colleagues or contractors may make mistakes in their duties through misunderstanding or misinterpreting the information you’ve told them.
Be aware of what your face is saying.
Everyone has likely had another person read the wrong conclusions into an email or memo. The miscommunication is often cleared up by picking up the phone or, even better, by conversing with someone face-to-face. 80% of communication comes from the tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions that transmit all elements of the communication in whole.
Utilise appropriate technologies
There is a wide range of technologies available that were developed specifically to help with collaborations and communications between and within businesses.
Educate your colleagues and contractors
As a key touch point for your clients, your colleagues and contractors need to be informed of your expectations and your clients’ needs. You need to treat them as partners and share information, maintain open communication channels and regularly provide and seek feedback. New information, perspectives and clarification can be gained from asking and assists in building that trust and engagement with your clients.
This also applies to your communication with your clients – remember that communication is a two-way exchange and therefore ask for and provide feedback. Identify who in the organisation needs to be communicated to, what needs to be communicated and how often. And it is important to note that not one size fits all – ask those you are interacting with how they like to collaborate and what is going to work best for them.