5 Communication Mistakes to Avoid with Your Team


Poor communication is the number-one reason that projects fail. Learn from leadership coach Susanne Madsen how to be better understood.

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!

communication mistakes when leading a project

In Review: Biggest Communication Mistakes

Susanne cited research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) regarding poor communications being the reason most project fail. She then outlined five common mistakes leaders make when communicating:

  1. Communicate too much in writing
  2. Don’t fully listen
  3. Don’t adapt our style
  4. Not clear about options and impact
  5. Don’t ask people to repeat our message

If you’re doing any one of the above five communication fails, then your message isn’t being clearly understood and your team is not going to implement it as required.

Pro-Tip: Another thing to be cognizant of is body language. Though words deliver your message, the way you say them and even how you’re holding your body when saying them have an unconscious impact. For example, you can be actively listening, but if you’re arms are folded over your chest it may appear as if you’re uninterested or disagreeable.

Take it further: Watch Susanne’s video exploring how high performing teams communicate and get her her leadership tips so you can learn from them.

Thanks for watching!


Hi, I’m Susanne Madsen. Welcome to this whiteboard session on the biggest communication mistakes. According to the PMI, the Project Management Institute, poor communication is one of the biggest reasons why projects fail. I’ve drawn up the biggest communication mistakes on this board. Let’s look at them so that you can avoid making them.

The first one is that we generally communicate too much in writing. Many project managers have a technical background. They’re very comfortable with sitting behind their desk and communicating through the computer, mostly by writing emails.

But writing emails is not an effective way to communicate. It doesn’t build great relationships. It is not a great way to manage expectations with your stakeholder, because you can’t see people’s expressions. You can’t see their emotional response when you just simply send an email.

When you have people in front of you, you can understand how they respond so you can adapt and tailor your message accordingly. So use email sparingly, and never ever use it in sensitive situations or when communicating a risk or an issue.

The next big mistake is we don’t seem to fully listen. I want you to picture that you have a stakeholder in front of you. And you are talking about a particular issue or a particular task that you’re doing. What most people do is they listen to their own internal dialogue.

You may think about what to say next or what the implications are of what the stakeholder is saying. But we don’t often fully listen, and when we don’t fully listen, we can’t actually truly understand what’s going on for the other person. We can’t truly empathize or see the situation from that point of view.

The third mistake is we don’t seem to adapt our style to the person in front of us. You see, everybody has a different communication preference. Some people would like you to communicate in a lot of detail. Maybe they want you to be to the point, they just want bullets. Maybe they want you to call them. That’s their preference.

Other people, they’re more big picture. They don’t want the detail at all. In fact, if you get to the point too quickly, you’re not engaging them. They want you to do a bit of small talk, and they might prefer you to just drop by their desk informally without having a formal meeting. The point here is that if you want to influence people and communicate in the most effective way, you have got to be mindful of what people’s communication preferences are so that you can adapt and tailor your style accordingly.

The fourth item is that we are not always clear about options and impact. Imagine, for instance, that a big change request has come up on your project. You need to escalate it to the steering committee or the project board to find out what to do next, but no one likes to have problems presented to them.

What people do like is when you are clear about the options for moving forward, the options for tackling those change requests, and what the impact is of each option. What’s the impact on time, cost, quality, and benefits? In that way, you make it very, very clear for the steering committee what they might want to do. They can easily make a decision. That, for sure, is clear communication.

And lastly, we don’t often ask people to repeat back our message. This is particularly relevant when you’re delegating to a team member or when you’re briefing someone. Imagine, for instance, that you want the team member to write a report for you, so you tell them, “I want this and that,” and you brief them. And then you go, “How did that sound?” And the team member says, “Yeah, sounds okay. I’ll give it a go.” But would it not be much more effective if you ask the team member to repeat back how they just understood what you talked about? In that way, you understand instantly whether they understood your message or not.

I wonder which of these communication mistakes you make the most often and how you can avoid making them. Thank you for watching. Please visit us again at ProjectManager.com.

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