By John Posillico
Over the past decade, there has been a significant advancement in the technology designed for and implemented within the construction industry. From comprehensive, high-definition laser scanning to integrated BIM-Schedule applications to drone surveying; the construction industry is advancing and will continue to do so at an exponential pace. It is all too common place that the industry tends to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of these advancements, and rightfully so. These technologies are not only helping construction managers to build faster, safer, and to a higher level of quality, but they also increase their work backlog, while enhancing their market impact to make a higher profit. That being said, for all the technological improvements, some have also considered a decline in the basic skills of a construction manager; specifically, skills that do not require advanced technology.
Working in the construction industry as a Construction Manager, Subcontractor, and Owner’s Representative, both domestically and abroad, I have witnessed a sharp decline in, what I call, the ‘basics of construction.’ I am not referencing the technical aspects considered previously, but what I am referring to are the communication and ‘people skills’ that have, for countless decades, been the staple of an effective construction manager. The advent of email has significantly impacted not only the speed of communication, but the manner in which we communicate on a daily basis. We are able to document conversations, include visuals, and attach related information to a message. Given the multi-functionality of email, we tend to reach for this communication medium instinctively. Yet, we sometimes fail to realize that email may not be the most effective form of communication for the message we are trying to convey.
ALMOND is a simple and (hopefully) fun acronym that outlines the major considerations when determining if an email is the most appropriate method of communication.
Depending on the recipient(s) of your message, you may need to alter your method of communication. If you need to communicate with your supervisor, an email may be sufficient, but it also may be too formal. However, if you are communicating with the CEO of a Healthcare Organization, an email may be too informal, where a memorandum or business letter would be the more appropriate choice.
This is a big one! We have all opened an email that looked like the first chapter from Don Quixote. What did we do next? Most likely, we did not read it; I know that I delayed reading for another time! The length of our message is very important, not from the stance of the message itself, but from the tone and implications associated with a lengthy email. As my students and colleagues would tell you, I tend to be long-winded, so I like to use bullet points to help convey the necessary information without the shock of paragraph after paragraph of text. I suggest taking the key points from your message and summarizing them through a handful of bullet points. This not only focuses the reader’s attention, but it also helps you in making sure you are communicating the most important information. Key Point: If you are having a hard time developing succinct bullet points, you may be best served sending a longer email and then following up with a phone call!
What are you trying to communicate? Is the matter so complex that you get confused writing the email? If so, pick up the phone and call. Is it so short and commonplace that you feel like you are wasting time typing the email? If so, send a text message or pick up the phone again. Remember, email does not express tone. If you are responding to a project situation that requires sensitivity, an email is most likely not going to be able to convey this tone. The recipient of the email will, in most cases, read the email in the tone that they are experiencing at that specific moment. When in doubt, type your tone into the email. For example: “I am being sincere when I write this.” If there is any concern about how the recipient may interpret your email; give them a call so they can hear the exact tone that you are trying to convey.
Urgency! We live and work in an era of immediacy. Given the business of everyone’s lives, it is unrealistic to expect a response to your email in less than one (1) day. Likewise, you would not want to feel required to respond to all of your emails in one (1) day. If your message requires an immediate response, another means of communication is warranted. Let me be clear. As I noted above, the email format is a great multi-functional communication tool, so perhaps an urgent message needs to be communicated both by email and phone call.
Noise is what is consistently trying to interfere with the effectiveness of your message and distract your reader. Noise, in email form, is represented by incorrect grammar, jargon or use of slang, and deviating from the topic at hand. A great example to consider of writing that is devoid of noise is a basic chapter book intended for the 5th grade reading level. The sentences are grammatically correct and the subject is straight to the point – very little room for noise to interfere with the message of the text!
Email is an excellent platform for documentation of project communication on a host of levels. Date stamping, read receipts, confirmation, etc. are becoming the standard for professional communication. I personally like to use email to confirm phone conversations; this is an effective tool to recap the phone call, share your interpretation with the recipient(s), and gain confirmation to any items that were agreed upon.
So, the next time you are considering sending an email, try using the acronym ‘ALMOND.’ As you will learn, I love puns, so give it a go! Don’t worry, nobody will think you’re nuts!
John Posillico, is an Assistant Professor within the Construction Technology & Management Program at Ferris State University and a Project Management Professional (PMP), who has spent more than a decade in the construction industry managing a wide range of healthcare, academic, and heritage projects throughout the United States & Canada. Mr. Posillico has also lectured at numerous Construction Management programs in the Midwest & Eastern Canada.
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