Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 9: communicating goals and priorities

This is my ninth installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for Parts 1-8.)

I have been writing in this series about communications in general, and about crafting an effective message, and I have written about listening and entering into real conversations, as opposed to simply delivering what amounts to monologs and diatribes. I have also addressed some specific communications challenges – communications issues where I have seen people get themselves into trouble and loose opportunity. And in that regard I cite:

Part 7: communicating through cultural differences and
Part 8: communicating for the here and now and for documentation purposes.

And I add that all of my postings in this series at least potentially focus on what can become key stumbling block issues. I continue that approach here, where I focus on both presenting your own goals and priorities and arguing their case to others, and listening and working with others as they hold and present their own. And I begin this posting by repeating a basic message that I have offered when discussing leadership skills, communications skills and a variety of other fundamental skills sets, wording this here in terms of communications:

• Good communications skills, practices and habits can be learned, and learned to the point where they become automatic. You do not have to be born a gifted communicator to become one.

Anyone can learn to become a good, effective communicator and anyone can become a better, more effective communicator, no matter where they start from.

What I write of here in this series are issues and challenges that if not addressed through learning curves can limit your effectiveness and lead to frustration and to avoidable challenges when you are working with others. And with that said, I turn to consider goals and priorities. And to set the stage for that, consider a scenario where you hold definite opinions as to the proper goals and priorities for planning and carrying through on a work responsibility that you have to work collaboratively on with others: a larger project for example that has to be completed by a set deadline where you need to work as a member of a group in order for it to get done. But the more specific implementation Whats and Hows of this generally stated work endeavor are contentious, and there are differences of opinion as to how best to proceed with it. You have your ideas and preferences as to how to divide up the work that would go into reaching the overall goals presented to you, and for who would do what of this and with what priorities. Your coworkers have their own ideas and preferences too.

• Your goal in this, as a matter of enlightened self-interest if nothing else, should be to find a resolution to any disagreements here that everyone who has to contribute to this effort can agree to. And that means finding a mutually acceptable resolution for setting task and sub-task goals, schedules and priorities that everyone can follow and that they will adhere to.
• If you win the argument, and as a zero-sum game where if you win then others have to loose, then you might feel brief satisfaction for “winning the argument” but the cost might very well be what should be avoidable schedule slippage, cost overruns or other problems – that will reflect badly on you too, and in your performance evaluations.
• So it is better to work with others to find a negotiated compromise that everyone can work with, and that they would be willing to strive to fulfill. And for most people in this situation, just knowing that they were listened to and that their views where seriously considered can go a long way towards bringing them to make a real effort to follow agreed-to decisions here. It is when people feel that they were ignored and steamrolled into agreeing with a decision that would be challenging to them, that compliance problems arise.

So getting your way, and certainly where others would have to long-term and repeatedly follow through on decisions made, can mean listening and working with them to address their needs, and their concerns too.

• Know what your real goals and priorities are and what you see as essential and why, and what you could more readily concede on and particularly where that means reaching a consensus that addresses your core needs.
• Really listen too, and think about what others are saying and with a goal of understanding where they hold core goals and priorities and where they might be willing to make concessions.
• Look out for people in these conversations who do not have a sense of priority here in what they ask for and who present everything that they would want as if their single highest priority.
• Look to develop alliances with other team members when dealing with them.
• Look for ways to given these people outs – ways to step back from their all or nothing positions.
• And if necessary, look for ways to manage what they actually have to do in this shared endeavor so that if they balk and fail to effectively perform, that is going to be less likely to stop everyone else in their tracks. Negotiate to limit their doing steps and sub-tasks that everyone else’s work would be critically dependent on and where their work would have to be finished before others can proceed – and particularly where they are resistant to following any compromise for that specific part of their contribution to this combined effort.

This approach, I have to say, can sometimes be at most an intention and particularly where team members working together on a shared larger project or initiative bring critically important specialist skills to the table, not shared by others in that group – a problem team member included. This is also not always possible when members of a work group of this type have schedule-conflicting outside work requirements and certainly when their other-work schedules change. It is, I add, also important to take into account the scheduling availability of needed material and equipment resources, where many businesses have resource bottlenecks – critical resources that many employees and teams need, but that are not available in sufficient numbers for all to be able to use them at once. And these and schedule challenges like them can create work completion problems even when everyone is actively trying to productively work together and without personal agendas.

• Document who is to do what, and what your agreed-to intended schedule would look like, and for key-step commencement and completion, benchmark identification and scheduling for tracking overall progress, and overall project completion. Even when everyone actively seeks to work together smoothly and effectively on a project, this can be invaluable for all involved, and both for completing their part of this work on time and so their effort meshes with that of others, and for managing schedule slippage challenges when they do arise.
• Get access permissions settled in writing and documented from whoever controls any bottleneck resources that you will need, so that you will be able to secure access to them and as close to when you would prefer that as possible, and for as long as required. This scheduling might have to change and for unavoidable reasons but having this in writing can be invaluable when negotiating for acceptable alternative resource access scheduling.
• Get a sign-off from managers who gate keep the availability of the people needed for this work.
• And plan to allow for flexibility is timing and prioritization where possible, and even when the overall completed-work goals for this effort cannot be changed. Plan so you can execute the work that would lead to those goals with resiliency.

I offer this posting in a series on communications, and it does belong in that topic area, but I also offer it as a project management posting. In that context I cite Projects, Project Management and Careers (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 250-266 for Parts 1-17) for material and references related to project work.

I also offer this, of necessity, as a posting on negotiations and the process of negotiating. In that context I cite as set of three easy to read books that I have recommended and used many times, and both in my own hands-on work and when mentoring others:

• Ury, William. (1991) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. Penguin Books.
• Ury, William. (1993) Getting Past No: negotiating in difficult situations. Bantam Books.
• Ury, William. (1997) The Power of Positive No: how to say no and still get to yes. Random House.

I add here as a caveat that is not always going to be possible to fully pursue the approach that I write of here, but if you have a strategically planned and fully considered set of working goals and approaches for reaching them in mind and if you systematically develop for their buy-in and execution, you are much more likely to at least come close to your intended work flow and schedule goals and to your desired overall work outcomes from this effort.

I have already started a discussion on communicating with and working with difficult people here in this posting. I will focus more directly on that in my next series installment, where I will consider a variety of difficult people and the issues of working more effective with, or if need-be working around them. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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