The challenges of communications in architectural practice

The challenges of architectural practice we talked about in our second session of Talking Crap... With further insights and analysis.

This session of Talking Crap we had an insightful, more informal and free flowing conversation around the challenges of architectural practice. This post is by no means a verbatim summary. These are my take-aways from the session, with additional considerations, analysis and questions.

The conversation focused ostensibly on the human relationships in practice – consent authorities, clients, consultants, colleagues and employees. The focus, more specifically, was on how architects communicate, negotiate and give and receive feedback. With much of the chat on the combative nature of these communications. Poor communication, it should go without saying, is problematic for running a practice. Communications with consent authorities and their staff can be especially (& regularly) infuriating for architects.

One thing I’m curious about it is how a history of these types of communications has become habitual. Does, for example, the council officer come to the table armoured up, prepared to defend territory. Holding their ground due to past experience? Do architects do the same? It’s learnt behaviour. The trick then is how to unlearn this way of communicating and to assist in changing the relationship so that communications are not so fraught in the future.

There was some consensus that architects are “right” to hold the position they hold in these communications/negotiations. I’m not sure that’s right – as per my comment in the previous paragraph. I’m not laying the blame at architect’s feet, everyone’s involved, it takes a minimum of two combatants. The point is that it’s likely architects can get better at this communication, be less combative and learning to do negotiation better. Ultimately finding a way to be more persuasive about their position rather than defensive of it. They may be right, but that’s not enough.

We also discussed, in passing, how the university education of architects might lead to the development of bad habits in the ways architects communicate. It’s perhaps not a case of having to teach new subjects, but teach students how to communicate better within the course they already do. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill, for example, yet it’s generally not taught well within the design studios. Thus bad habits are embedded into the culture by the practitioners who teach it.

Communications, giving and receiving feedback, and negotiating are skills that can be learnt. It’s something that could therefore be taught and engaged with at university level as well as in ongoing professional development. Architects are predisposed to focus on the failings of those they deal and communicate with, without acknowledging their own shortcomings in communications. If the energy of complaint was instead focused on learning better skills, architects might be better prepared for challenging communications.

Drawing attention away from the profession’s combativeness, it was also observed that architects are not always one of the combatants. On occasions architects find themselves in the middle of the combat as the referee – whether that’s between co-clients, client and builder, or some other relationship within the project. Conflict resolution should not be forgotten as one of the challenges of practice. Yet architects are seldom versed in this skill.

It raises a number of questions,

If architectural practice is about relationships, what are architects doing in order to understand how they might build better relationships?

How might architects be less combative and develop better communications skills?

How might architects become better at enrolling consent authorities and consultants in their strategy, approach and the outcome they’re trying to achieve.

A final thought…

Sometimes this is not about how you communicate. It’s about listening. How might architects get better at listening?

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