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Communication Techniques

How to Reduce Misunderstanding

Communication usually goes awry on projects because people "informate" rather than "communicate".

“Informating” is the dissemination of information, irrespective of the meaning that may be attached to it by the recipient. Informating results in you playing 'chinese whispers' on your project.

There is an old story that, in the first world war, the front line sent a message via runners to the general. The message said: "Send reinforcements, we are going to advance". By the time the message reached the general it said "send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance".

Any message you "send out" as Project Manager can get distorted and misunderstood.

“Communicating” is the achievement of a common understanding between two or more people - ie: where both attribute the same meaning to the information that is exchanged.

As Project Manager, you have to make sure you communicate, and your team members communicate with each other, and not just informate.

How Communication Works

What do you think I mean if I say the word: "Speed".

I have asked this question many times on workshops, and here is a selection of the answers I get:

  • Velocity; distance over time; rate of progress
  • Going fast
  • Exceeding the speed limit
  • Drugs
  • The film with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock
  • The footballer who played for Everton and Wales

Why are there so many different answers?

Because communication is a complex process, and any message is distorted by:

  • the experience/filters of both speaker and listener

  • the medium used to communicate


If you are not interested in football, or have never seen Everton or Wales play, then you may never have heard of Gary Speed, the footballer. Therefore, your experience, or lack of it, excludes "the footballer" as a possible response.

If you are someone who deals everyday with drugs and drug addicts, the first thing you may think of is drugs.

Project Management Training: Soft Skills Tools

Project Management Training



Trust and Rapport


Winning Commitment


Using Power



Small Teams

Group Conflicts

Team Development

Managing Difference


Team Islands

In/Out Groups

Building the wider team

Large Projects

Project Culture

Putting it all together

Alternatively, if you are a scientist planning how to send a rocket into space, the first thing you may think of is 'distance over time'.

Our individual experience changes the meaning of the words we hear. That experience acts like a filter, removing some meanings and accentuating others.


If I write the word "speed" I have two common alternatives: "speed" or "Speed".

The latter version has a capital letter at the start which,when not at the start of the sentence, strongly implies it is a proper name.

However, when I say the word, the listener is unable to tell whether I have 'capitalised' it or not.

That is, the medium used (written or spoken word) also acts as a filter on the information communicated, and can distort it's meaning.

Don't Assume

The mistake made in "informating" is that person informating thinks the recipient of the information will attribute the same meaning to that information.

This is very often not the case! And what's worse, when people miscommunicate, they don't even realise that they have misunderstood each other! They "assume" they have understood and, as the old saying goes, "if you ASSUME, then you make an ASS of U and ME".


The way around this problem is to get feedback from those with whom you have informated on what they have understood by your information. If the feedback agrees, then you have likely communicated (there is still a potential for misunderstanding, but it is much reduced).

Effective communication therefore involves the following iterative process:

  1. Informate
  2. Get feedback
  3. Check the feedback vs your intended meaning
  4. If they agree, then you have communicated and you can stop the process here
  5. If they contradict (or if there is still potential for misunderstanding) re-informate, using different words
  6. Go back to step two

The next article in this online course is:

Project Management Training:
Soft Skills Part 13: In/Out Groups

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©2013 Team Technology. Further articles/resources that may be of interest include: Personality Test, Personality Type Descriptions, Myers Briggs overview, The Basics of Team Building, What Career is Right for Me?, and Career ideas.