Achieving Effective Communication in the Role of the Architect

Effective communication is a necessary component of any high quality service.  Achieving effective communication begins with transmitting clear, concise information and following-up to see that it has been received, understood and, if necessary, responded to.

The design and construction of a building project entails addressing numerous issues over a time frame lasting anywhere from several weeks to several years.  In addition, many matters involve the input of several interested parties viewing the matters from different perspectives.   Consequently, the process will frequently entail prolonged give-and-take communications by more than two participants as opposed to a single transmission of information which is replied to with unqualified agreement.  Below are a few things I’ve learned over several decades while playing the architect’s role in this process.

  • When persons viewing issues from different perspectives bring forth opposing opinions, it is helpful to consider that very often there are more than two sides to an argument – your side, my side and the truth!
  • At the inception of a building project, some needs, wishes and limitations communicated by the Client as well as other members of the design team may be most appropriately addressed at a time in the distant future.  Thus, the architect must in one way or another put into place the reminders needed to make sure such issues are ultimately taken care of.
  • All interested parties should be in-the-loop of communications pertaining to important decisions that are taken.
  • Since you can’t be absolutely sure of anything unless it is in black and white, E-mail offers a very convenient means of achieving this.  However, it can be very inefficient to use E-mail exclusively in relation to issues that require prolonged give-and-take communications.  In those cases the best approach can be for all interested parties to communicate by word of mouth until a final decision is taken and then confirm it with E-mail.
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  • As the leader of the A/E team the architect is the catalyst of the design process.  However, in order to effectively address many issues, the primary input must come from interested parties other than the architect.  In those situations the architect should facilitate and participate in a conference call with those interested parties so they can communicate as needed to arrive at acceptable resolutions of such matters.
  • On some rare occasions, the architectural firm’s point person will not see the job through to completion.  Therefore, that person should be especially careful to maintain thorough, explicit documentation of all communications so his or her successor can take over the project as expeditiously as possible.

To summarize, I return to the reference made in the first paragraph about seeing to it that all communications have been received, understood and, if necessary, responded to.  Although E-mail is an effective way to document that a communication has been received it doesn’t always complete the process in and of itself.  Therefore, when an E-mail contains a proposal (e.g. a design study) the communication process isn’t complete until the proposal has been responded to.  Also, when an E-mail describes givens (e,g, decisions that have been taken) the E-mail must include text such as “if any of this communication is contrary to your understanding of what is addressed, please give me a call so we can review the matters in question and come to an agreement”.