by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)
We’ve all been there, haven’t we—we have our elaborate plans, everything is beautiful, we’re communicating with stakeholders and the team, planning and testing, and maybe we’ve even rolled something out. Then it happens. That one person finds the needle in the haystack, the one mistake or thing wrong on your project. There are always events out of our control occurring on our projects, and we know to anticipate them. When something comes out of left field, though, it can really hurt, and it is a challenge to keep our cool and remain professional. I continue to learn this, and even have a very recent example.
An Example of Poor Communication
I had been working with my team on a very large technology implementation for several months. We rolled it out and it was working well. One day I get an email from a project manager on our team, pointing out what, to her, was a grievous error: the typo. She had found two typos in one of our communications, and felt she had to let us know how unprofessional we were. Compared to the scope of the project, it was a minor error, but her tone and choice of words were demeaning. It was difficult but important that I maintain my own level of professionalism. You can imagine how it mortified a team of not only project managers, but also highly skilled, organized technical people, to have months of hard work overlooked and be chastened for missing a typo. Before I actually responded to the sender, the team mapped out a process to use and incorporate going forward to prevent it from happening again. We included a feedback loop into our communication plan, and best practices for when feedback created an event.
A More Professional Way to Communicate
In the communication plan there’s a sender and receiver. The sender sends feedback to the receiver, and the receiver sends a response. Giving feedback is a large part of what we as project managers want to do. In this example, the project manager who sent the email pointing out the typo was right in giving feedback. It was important for me to inform my team, the intended receiver, of the feedback, but to also be candid and point out the sender could have been more professional about it.
I shared that a different way of doing what this person did would be to let us know that we had a typo, but maintain professionalism by using humor and also asking, “How can I support?” For instance, an alternative way to frame feedback would have been, “Hey Jennifer, I’m really excited about the enhancements that your team and project is rolling out in our organization. They are going to save time, money and effort, but we noticed you had a typo in your communication. I know how it can be with testing and overlooking something. I’ve done so myself. With me being an analytical person I would love to offer my support next time, to review any communication that you might send out.” Wow, that would be a different approach, instead of sending a scathing email to me to send to my team.
Likewise, the receiver of this feedback is to provide a professional response that thanks the sender for their information. “Thank you for your candid feedback and letting us know how we overlooked something in our testing. We went back and incorporated more testing into our plan.” Our process was to receive feedback, candidly share it with the team, update our testing and communications plans in light of this information, and respond to the sender our resolve to review and test in even greater detail so we wouldn’t let those typos slip through next time.
In the grand scheme of things, like implementing a major enterprise corporate technology solution, a typo isn’t that important, although we do take it seriously. And for a team that had been working so hard and diligently for many months, days and hours, there was a more professional way to communicate that feedback.
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