Have you ever wondered why we so often avoid discussions about problems in a project? Are we afraid of conflict, misunderstanding the role of conflict, lacking communication skills, or perhaps afraid of the consequences? In this article, I reveal how to effectively communicate problems, how to identify the source of the problem, and how to draw conclusions from it for the future. Read on to find out more!
In this article, you will read about
Why are we afraid to communicate problems?
Fear of conflict.
The most commonly listed reason pointed out as something that blocks us from communicating a problem is: Fear of conflict.
We often avoid discussing problems because we fear it will lead to conflict. Perhaps you’re worried that talking about the problem will provoke negative reactions from others. This often happens when colleagues associate conflict with seeking those responsible for the problem. This can be prevented if a solution-oriented approach to problems is developed within the team and organization.
Once a problem has occurred, it doesn’t matter who caused it, what matters is how we solve it and what conclusions we draw for the future. This approach to problems creates an organization where employees feel safe and report problems, or potential problems, much earlier. This, in turn, leads to the organization being less exposed to undesirable situations, especially serious failures in relation to the services or products provided to customers.
Misunderstanding the Role of Conflict
Misunderstanding the role of Conflict is often perceived as negative, but it can also be a driving force for change. If managed well, conflict can lead to innovation and better understanding. To better understand conflict, it’s worth realizing that what happened does not define you in any way. Even if the problem is a result of your oversight or omission, it still doesn’t define you as a person. Separating oneself from the situation that occurred greatly helps in the conversation aimed at communicating the situation and resolving it. Conflict is nothing more than a comparison of two or more opinions about a particular event and in our specific case an idea for its solution. In this context, it is worth listening to opinions and ideas and not rigidly sticking to your own solution. Instead, treat all ideas as a starting point in the discussion, and then as a team try to work out a solution that will be satisfactory for all parties and solve the problem you encountered.
Lack of communication skills
The challenge may also be a lack of knowledge about how to effectively communicate a problem. In the first step, it is worth starting with a deep observation of the situation that occurred and trying to describe this situation, separating it from your own emotions, opinions, and interpretations. After describing the situation, write down what needs will not be met due to this problem or what risks the situation carries for the project. Finally, consider who is the stakeholder of the problem. Who can help solve the problem or who the problem may affect? Based on this, think about what, how, and to whom to communicate, so that the message is tailored to the recipient in terms of the scope of influence on this person and what you expect from this person, what actions you would like from the other side.
Fear of Consequences
Sometimes we avoid addressing problems due to fear of the consequences. We are afraid that sharing the problem will result in additional work, we will be pushed away from the project, or even lose our job. The most important thing is to accept the fact that problems are inevitable. It is much easier to deal with emerging problems if we approach them as an opportunity to learn something new, a chance for growth. Of course, it’s not good if we keep making the same mistake, but if we learn from our errors, it’s the best possible personal development for us.
It’s beneficial to prepare an action scene before starting to communicate about the problem. Even if you don’t know exactly what needs to be done, it’s good to communicate it. For example, you can propose a meeting during which you would like to discuss possible solutions to the problem that has arisen. Most importantly, believe in a positive resolution to the situation that has occurred. Some even argue that if there is no solution, then there is no problem. It’s worth keeping this in mind. Also, remember that if you don’t know the solution, it only means that you haven’t yet asked the right person how to solve this problem. Someone surely knows, and even if they don’t, they can provide a hint, and such a hint can trigger a new way of looking at the problem in your mind, leading you to the solution.
Lack of Listening
Often, problems go unaddressed because we feel that our voice is not being heard or is not being taken seriously. If there is no open and accepting atmosphere in the project environment, we may feel uncomfortable expressing our concerns or communicating the problem. This issue cannot be easily solved as it requires all project team members to change their thinking and be open.
As a Project Manager at the beginning of the project, you can agree with other project participants that you permit each other open communication for the purpose of achieving the project’s goal. Without mutually judging each other and searching for blame for the problems that arise in the project. If everyone agrees to this, in the event of a problem, you can refer to this rule and remind the team that approaching the problem in a constructive way, aiming to solve the problem rather than blaming each other or others, significantly increases the chances of success and delivering the project goal within the set deadline and budget.
How to Communicate a Problem?
Communicating problems requires transparency, empathy, and assertiveness. It is very difficult to separate emotions from a substantive discussion, especially when the project delivery date or its scope is at risk. It is then worth using a brief checklist, which can be a starting point for further work on the message:
- Identify the problem – define exactly what you are dealing with, separate from personal interpretations. It should be as objective a description as possible, with a detailed explanation of the problem. Here you will find inspirations related to solving the problem of lack of time in a project: How to solve time problem in a project;
- Identify stakeholders – it is very important to determine who the identified problem will affect and what that impact will be. It is good if you can specify this impact in units such as time or value.
- Identify who may know the solution or at least who can help in solving this problem. Also, try to find potential solutions yourself based on your experiences or the knowledge base available in the environment in which you work.
- Determine what is needed – think about and write down what you think is needed to solve the problem that has arisen. Even if these are only steps to be taken, it is still much more than communicating the problem with a sense of helplessness and zero ideas of how to manage the situation that has arisen.
- Collect what you have done so far in relation to the problem that has appeared and prepare to communicate this situation and take further steps to solve the problem.
How to Draw Conclusions for the Future.
First and foremost, it’s worth considering the source of the problem. However, it’s not advisable to take shortcuts and attribute the source to a person. Even if our mind suggests the obviousness of such a solution. If we associate the problem with a person, we will not draw any constructive conclusions from the situation that has occurred. Worse still, we may assign our negative emotions to the person we have identified as guilty of the situation, which is another step towards a disaster in the project.
First of all, you should think about what should have been done to prevent the problem from arising. Even if we conclude that the problem will recur periodically, as part of drawing conclusions for the future, you can, for example, prepare a procedure based on the steps taken. This will facilitate and accelerate actions if the problem recurs.
When considering what could have been done differently and what we have learned, it is also worth engaging the entire project team involved in solving the problem. Start the meeting by agreeing that we focus on the situation, not on personal assessments of who did what and what they didn’t do.
If you are interested in a Retrospective meeting, you can look here: How to conduct an Effective Agile Retrospective: A Step-by-Step Guide.
Communicating problems in a project may seem challenging, but it is a crucial element of successful project management. Overcoming fears of conflict, understanding its role, gaining communication skills, and dealing with consequences are steps toward effective communication. Remember, behind every problem, there are lessons you can learn and apply in the future.
I’m eager to hear about your experiences in this matter – do you have any strategies or advice on communicating problems in projects? Leave a comment below!