In its 2014 Professional Liability Survey, the ACEC discovered that poor communication is involved in nearly 50% of all claims.  XLDP, a major writer of professional liability insurance for design professionals, has been aware of this for years.  Their “Risk Driver” studies have identified numerous “non-technical” factors that contribute to professional liability claims, and communication, or lack thereof, is at the top of the list.

There is no question that effective communication will substantially reduce the likelihood of an E&O (errors and omissions) claim and help reduce the severity of those claims that do occur.  So how good is your Communication SOP?  Does your staff know what is expected of them when it comes to communicating with others and documenting all of the details on their projects?

We have developed a Communication Best Practices document that deals with both the minimum standards and the best practices for communication and documentation.  While you may not feel the need to develop a full-blown Best Practices SOP, there are certain items you should make your staff aware of.

A very simple first rule is this:  Any conversations, discussions or commitments that are even remotely important need to be documented in writing.  This may be an email back to the other party confirming what was discussed, or it may be a note to attach to the project file.  Regardless, it needs to be documented.  If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen!

It is critical that your communications clearly spell out who is to do what and by when.  It is equally important to follow through on your commitments and follow up on the commitments of others.  This requires clarity and discipline.  If you tell someone you will do something by a certain date, you need to follow through or at a minimum alert the other side that you can’t make the original deadline and set a new one.  Unfulfilled commitments are often the basis of a claim.

Written communication needs to be clear as well.   Does your subject line articulate the topic of the correspondence ?  Many people hit delete if the subject line doesn’t pertain to them, so make sure it is accurate.  Avoid sending long email strings that require the other party to read through the entire string to try and figure out what you want them to do.  Do you proofread what you are sending?  Will the other party understand what is expected of them?  Have you spell checked and grammar checked the document?  Do you double check recipients before you hit send?

It is also important to be totally objective in your communication and correspondence.  You should never say or write anything about anything or anybody that you would not want repeated in a court of law.  Everything is discoverable!  The rule we learned in kindergarten applies here:  If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Effective conversational and writing  skills are critical to the success of any business, and the good news is that these skills can be learned.  Educating yourself and your staff on effective communication is a solid investment.