Tips for Effective Communication
Active Listening - Communication is a two-way street, so it is important that you listen carefully to your team mates when they are speaking. Don't tune speakers out or get caught in the trap of planning ahead to what you want to say next. You may miss an important detail, and in the worst case, you repeat the detail you missed because you were not listening.
Ask Questions - If you hear something that confuses you, you should ask about it. Maybe you missed a detail or maybe you remembered something others forgot. In any case, it's important that everyone understand exactly what's going on. Chances are that if you're confused, then others are too.
Conversely, if a team member asks you a question, you should answer it courteously. The team member may be bringing up a crucial detail that could make or break the team's plans.
Constructive Feedback - Although it is important to evaluate proposed ideas and suggestions, critiques need to be presented with tact. Some tips that may help:
- Don't express an opinion as a fact - You may hate orange text on green, but that is an opinion unless you can cite a legitimate reason for your concern (such as that this color combination may be harder to read).
- Explain your reasons - If you do have an strong opinion, explain why you feel that way. This will allow others to evaluate your comments more effectively.
- Restate the original idea - To be sure you have correctly understood someone else's idea before you respond to it.
- Compliment another's idea - Even if you do not think it would work, some part of it may be valid and could be usable in another form.
- Respond, don't react - If you feel like you're ready to explode, give yourself a few seconds before speaking.
- Don't interrupt
- Critique the idea, not the person
- Be courteous
- Avoid jargon
Chat a Little - A meeting does not have to be 100% business. It is perfectly fine to ask team members how they are doing or what they are planning next weekend. This can really help ease tension when disagreements occur later. Of course, you should not socialize for the entire meeting.
These tips also work if you are presenting an idea.
Body Language Awareness - If you are having a bad day or are feeling unhappy with the team project, you could be giving off negative signals with body language or a harsh tone. Even if you are saying the right thing, team members may still react negatively if you send the wrong body language signals.
If you are feeling tense before going into a meeting, try taking a deep breath to relax.
Humor - While you would not want to make fun of your teammates or tell jokes that may offend others, there are plenty of topics that your team mates may find humorous - some of them may even be project related.
Patience - You may have the best idea, but not everyone may understand it the first time. The same question may be asked more than once. A member may forget a deadline unless reminded. Disagreements may occur over small details. Or conversely, team members may decide an issue too hastily, and may have to backtrack later. But, in most cases, it will all work out.
Your teammates or your instructor may ask you to communicate through e-mail, a bulletin board or chat. In fact, e-mail or bulletin boards can be an effective way to get more input from shy teammates. Below are some tips that make your online messages more effective.
TECH TIP - If you need to set up an area for online communicaiton, you may want to set up a group in ANGEL which includes utilities to set up message boards. Students can set up ANGEL groups even if the instructor is not using ANGEL. Click on Help in ANGEL link for more details.
Review the Student Guidelines for Electronic Communication (New Site) as a reminder of what kinds of language and headers facilitate online communication.
Use Emoticons or "Communication Tags"- Since your teammates will not be able to hear your tone of voice, emoticons can add a touch of personality to your messages and defuse comments that could be misinterpreted. Some famous emoticons include:
- Friendly Smile - :) or =) or <grin>
- Apology/Frustration - :( or =( or <grrr!>
- Shocked Face- :o or =o
- A Wink - ;) (or <irony>...</irony>)
Don't write when you're angry - There's no time limit on e-mail so give yourself a chance to calm down before writing a response.
Re-read your message before sending - Confusion is even more likely over the Internet, so it's important to be as clear as possible.
Share daily schedules - This will give you a good idea of when a team member might be available. For instance one person could be doing homework at night, while someone else is out working.
Establish a time limit for replies - Usually somewhere between 24-48 hours.
For serious disagreements - You may want to call or talk to someone in person before sending another angry e-mail to the group. Sometimes it's easier to discuss things on the phone or in person.
If you're sharing files - Establish a naming convention for tracking versions and a system for determining who is providing revisions and comments.
TECH TIP 1: Some word processors such as Microsoft Word allow users to highlight text or change the font to different colors.
TECH TIP 2: If you receive a revised version of a file, put the old one into a separate "old versions" file right away.HANDOUTS: Additional tips are available in the Penn State Schreyer Institute handouts.