Communicating With Others

Communicating with others is an essential competence for Bid and Proposal Managers and all proposal team members. Understanding how to communicate with others and in different circumstances is a skill that can be developed.

In its basic form, communication requires three elements: a person who originates a message, a channel for communicating that message, and a receiver of the message.


Bid and Proposal Managers and proposal team members need to understand the mechanisms by which people relate to and interact with other people. Simple models, such as the ones referenced in this section, are a useful starting point as you build your interpersonal skill-set.

The communication skills covered in this section include:

  • Leadership
  • Delegation
  • Teamwork
  • Conflict management

Communication is the means by which information is exchanged and a common understanding is achieved. Its goals are to:

  • Impart relevant information
  • Ensure the information is understood

Best Practices

1. Understand the principles of communication.

2. Understand the components of communication.

Communication comes in many forms. The obvious primary forms are written, verbal, and body language, but these are modified by many other factors, such as whether they are formal or informal, active or passive, and conscious or unconscious.

The way someone creates a message and the way someone else receives that message depends on numerous factors, such as their personal values, vested interests, frame of mind, and even their personal learning style. (Learning style indicates whether someone responds better to auditory, visual, or kinesthetic/tactile channels of communication.)

The range of available channels of communication is increasing all the time. Traditional channels such as paper, telephone, and face to face are being supplemented and often replaced by email, social media, and teleconferencing. Every new channel brings its own opportunities and challenges.

Bid and Proposal Managers and their sponsor must take all these factors into account when deciding on the content and structure of their communications.

Models such as David Berlo’s theory of communication provide simple structures from which an understanding of the many complex aspects of communication can be developed.

Berlo’s theory of communication is also known as the SMCR model because of its four components: source, message, channel, and receiver.


Communicating With Others Figure 1

Figure 1. Berlo’s Theory of Communication. David Berlo’s model of communication has four components: source, message, channel, and receiver. The model doesn’t include feedback, yet it is always useful for the source and receiver to swap places, replay the message in the opposite direction, and confirm understanding.


All communications have a source. A source may be an individual, group, or company. The source’s job is to encode the message that needs to be shared. How it encodes the message is affected by several attributes, such as the source’s communications skills, its attitude toward the audience, knowledge of the content, social background, and culture.


The source must encode the message (i.e., the content). In this case, the content includes everything that is communicated, both intentionally and unintentionally. The elements of the communication could, for example, include the speech, body language, and slides used in combination during a presentation. The delivery of the communication could be grave or light-hearted, formal or informal; it should be consistent with how the source wants the receiver to interpret the message.

All but the simplest of messages need to be structured so that multiple layers of the message are conveyed in a logical and cumulative way. They also need to be coded appropriately. To use an obvious example, the language must be one that the recipient understands.


Berlo’s channels clearly relate to the five senses and point out that the ability to convey a message is not just about the words we hear (or read). Communication in the proposal environment rarely includes touch, smell, or taste, and will inevitably focus on hearing (usefully seen as synonymous with reading) and seeing. In the modern world, hearing and seeing can be translated into channels that include presentations, emails, video conferencing, newsletters, and podcasts. This modern twist doesn’t change the fact that the receiver’s ability to correctly decode the message will depend on choosing the right channel.


The receiver is the person, group, or company that is the intended recipient of the message. The receiver has to decode it upon receipt. The factors that affect decoding are similar to those affecting the original encoding by the source. Decoding is also affected by the receiver’s attitude, knowledge of the content, social background, culture, and other attributes.

3. Use communication as a leadership tool.

Leadership has many definitions because it is exercised in so many different contexts. In the context of proposal management, leadership is best and most simply defined by its goals, which are to:

  • Provide focus and promote commitment to objectives
  • Inspire team members to successfully achieve their objectives

Leadership theory revolves around the relationship between the leader and those who follow. Several theories of leadership are described below.

3.1 McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor identified two extreme views of leadership. Theory X managers assume that people fundamentally dislike work and need authoritarian leadership. Theory Y managers assume that people can be ambitious and self-motivated, and they see the leadership role as developing each individual’s potential.

Communicating With Others Figure 2
Figure 2. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y Model. Theory X and Theory Y describe two extreme views of leadership.

Being a good leader is not about being a Theory X or Theory Y manager. It is about knowing three things: your natural style; what combination of Theory X and Theory Y is needed during different phases of proposal development; and what combination of Theory X and Theory Y is appropriate for the team being led and the individuals within it.

The proposal development environment is, by definition, temporary. Teams come together to achieve objectives and are disbanded once the work is complete. Models of teamwork describe how teams go through development stages; many leadership models show how a leader’s style must adapt in parallel with the progression of the team. This is often referred to as situational leadership.

Ultimately, the position of leader is “granted” by people who decide to follow. That decision will be influenced by the leader’s ability to adopt an appropriate style of leadership that takes account of the situation and the readiness of people to follow.

To a degree, team members’ readiness to follow a leader will depend on their perception of the leader’s “power.” This not as purely transactional as it sounds. As described by Patrick Montana and Bruce Charnov, it also applies to transformational styles of leadership, where leaders work in tandem with their team.

Every individual has a preferred style of leadership and will instinctively exhibit that style in most situations. It will lie somewhere between McGregor’s extremes of Theory X and Theory Y. By far, the hardest part of leadership for a Bid or Proposal Manager is having to exhibit different styles of leadership for different teams at different phases of the proposal development lifecycle—most of which will not be their preferred style.

3.2 Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership theory describes four leadership styles and four levels of individual or team maturity or readiness. It then combines these to suggest which style of leadership best suits each maturity level.

A Bid or Proposal Manager needs to be competent in all four styles. They are:

  • Telling. This style is characterized by one-way communication wherein the Bid or Proposal Manager defines roles and directs how work will be performed.
  • Selling. The Bid or Proposal Manager is still directive, but uses two-way communication. The team or individual is now encouraged to buy into the Bid or Proposal Manager’s decisions.
  • Participating. The Bid or Proposal Manager and team share decisionmaking about how some aspects of the work will be performed; the manager’s behavior is less directive and more supportive.
  • Delegating. While still involved in decisions, the Bid or Proposal Manager has delegated much of the responsibility for performance of the work to the team but retains responsibility for monitoring progress.

3.3 Adair’s Action Centered Leadership

John Adair identified three overlapping areas of core responsibility: task, team, and individual. He called the balancing of these three elements Action Centered Leadership.

Communicating With Others Figure 3

Figure 3. Adair’s Action Centered Leadership. John Adair identified three overlapping areas of core responsibility.

In this scenario, the task is the development of the proposal. An individual will come to the team with his or her own needs and ambitions; the team element relates to maintenance of the team and ensuring that individuals work together to complete the task.

Clearly, what is needed is a balance between all three. Adair describes six key functions that must be performed to achieve this balance. Although he was focusing on teams of all types, it is no coincidence that in every case there is a match to proposal management techniques.

  • Planning. Planning involves seeking all available information; defining the group task, purpose, or goal; and developing a workable plan. In proposal management terms, this is not only about planning delivery, but also about planning governance.
  • Initiating. Initiating involves communicating objectives, explaining the business case, allocating responsibilities, and setting team standards.
  • Controlling. Controlling requires the promotion and maintenance of teamwork. It describes how a leader influences tempo, ensures actions are taken toward objectives (delegation and control), and encourages the team to act and make decisions.
  • Supporting. This includes recognizing people and their contributions, encouraging the team and individual members, providing discipline where necessary, creating team spirit, and managing conflict.
  • Informing. Informing comprises regular clarification of the objectives and plan, giving new information, receiving information, and summarizing suggestions and ideas clearly.
  • Evaluating. This includes checking whether an idea is feasible, testing the consequences of a proposed solution, and helping the team evaluate its own performance.

The first three functions (planning, initiating, and controlling) are more transactional in nature, and the focus is more on the task. The second three (supporting, informing, and evaluating) are more transformational, with a focus on relationships.

4. Delegate tasks, but remain accountable for the work.

Delegation is the practice of giving a person or group the authority and responsibility to perform specific activities on behalf of another. The act of delegation does not transfer accountability; the person who has delegated the work remains accountable for its results.

The goals of delegation are to:

  • Allocate work effectively to individuals, teams, and suppliers
  • Motivate and develop team members

In many ways, delegating a task is a microcosm of the wider proposal management environment. There are many shared principles, as Figure 4 illustrates:

Communicating With Others Figure 4

Figure 4. Delegation Procedure. Delegation is primarily a means of distributing work around the various proposal contributors, but it’s also a means of motivating teams and individuals to realize their full potential.

Delegation underpins a style of management that encourages proposal team members to use and develop their skills and knowledge.

The first step is to define the task or work package and confirm that it is something that can be delegated. A team or individual can be selected after their capability to do the work has been assessed and any training needs have been identified.

Transfer of the work will require the Bid or Proposal Manager to clearly specify what needs to be done. Work is not the only thing being delegated; some degree of responsibility and authority is also being transferred, so the Bid or Proposal Manager must explain the role as well as the desired output.

Once the work is underway, the Bid or Proposal Manager should exercise a suitable degree of supervision and provide support as required.

Numerous potential obstacles are in the path of effective delegation, including:

  • Complex lines of authority in a matrix organization
  • The Bid or Proposal Manager’s ability to select the members of his or her team
  • Poor culture, particularly if blame is common or there is intolerance of mistakes that would make people reluctant to accept responsibility
  • Reluctance to delegate (e.g., “By the time I’ve explained it, I could have done it myself.”)

Delegation is an essential component of developing high-performing teams, and a competent Bid or Proposal Manager will need to develop skills to overcome all of these personal and organizational obstacles.

5. Encourage teamwork and the pursuit of a common goal.

Teamwork is how a group of people come together to collaborate and cooperate in achieving common objectives. The goals of teamwork are to:

  • Create a team from a collection of individuals
  • Develop and maintain the team’s performance

The difference between a team and a group of individuals is the team’s collective commitment to agreed-on objectives. All teams are made up of individuals, regardless of the context of the team. That means they go through stages of development and suffer from many of the same problems or growing pains.

The main distinguishing factor of proposal teams is their temporary nature. A Bid or Proposal Manager needs to build a team as quickly as possible and maintain its performance against the backdrop of impending demobilization. It helps considerably if the individuals who make up the team are comfortable with or actively enjoy the dynamic environment of proposal development.

Models of teamwork tend to address two aspects: the nature of the individuals who make up the team, and the developmental stage of the team as a whole.

The next section illustrates how different personalities work together to create a working team. Each personality has strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, within the team, one person’s strengths will balance another’s weaknesses. Individuals will perform better in a team context if they are given a role that plays to their strengths.

5.1. Belbin’s Team Roles

R. Meredith Belbin studied teams by working on management games and experimented with different mixes of people.

His initial approach was to group the most capable people together to form an elite team. But these teams did not perform well, so Belbin concluded that a high-performing team needs a complementary mix of characters. He identified nine character types, each of which make positive contributions to a team but also have what Belbin termed allowable weaknesses.

The following extracts from Belbin’s work give an idea of the different team roles. These brief selections of contributions and allowable weaknesses illustrate the concept.

Belbin’s Nine Character Types


  • Contributions: Plants are creative, imaginative, and unorthodox. They solve difficult problems.
  • Allowable weaknesses: A plant ignores incidentals and is too preoccupied to communicate effectively.

Monitor Evaluator

  • Contributions: Typically, Monitor Evaluators are mature, confident, and make good chairpersons. They clarify goals, promote decisionmaking, and delegate well.
  • Allowable weaknesses: This person lacks drive and the ability to inspire others.


  • Contributions: Specialists are single-minded, self-starting, and dedicated. They provide knowledge and rare skills.
  • Allowable weaknesses: A specialist contributes only on a narrow front and often dwells on technicalities.


  • Contributions: A respected leader who helps everyone focus on their task.
  • Allowable weaknesses: Coordinators can often be seen as manipulative or controlling. They tend to off-load personal work.

Resource Investigator

  • Contributions: These people are extroverted, enthusiastic, and communicative. They explore opportunities and network well.
  • Allowable weaknesses: Resource Investigators can be overly optimistic and lose interest once their initial enthusiasm has passed.


  • Contributions: Team-workers are cooperative, mild, perceptive, and diplomatic. They listen well and work to avoid friction in the team.
  • Allowable weaknesses: They can be indecisive in crunch situations.

Completer Finisher

  • Contributions: These team members are painstaking, conscientious, and anxious. They search out errors and omissions and usually deliver on time.
  • Allowable weaknesses: They are inclined to worry unduly and are reluctant to delegate.


  • Contributions: Implementers are disciplined, reliable, conservative, and efficient. They turn ideas into practical actions.
  • Allowable weaknesses: They can be somewhat inflexible and slow to respond to new possibilities.


  • Contributions: These people are challenging, dynamic, and thrive on pressure. They have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
  • Allowable weaknesses: Shapers are prone to provocation and may offend other people’s feelings.

Belbin’s approach does not place an individual in one category. Instead, it measures the relative degrees of each type in a person’s character. For instance, somebody who is predominantly a Plant may also have strong Resource Investigator tendencies and a few qualities of a Completer Finisher.

In an ideal world, a Bid or Proposal Manager would create a team that had the necessary balance of roles, but often the nomination or allocation of people to a team is outside the Bid or Proposal Manager’s control. In that case, it’s useful to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses so the manager can adapt, lead, and motivate accordingly.

Once assembled, teams do not become high-performing simply because they have been given a common objective. They typically go through a series of development stages, as illustrated by Bruce Tuckman (and by others, such as Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith). Bid and Proposal Managers must understand where a team is in the development cycle and adjust their leadership style accordingly.

5.2 Tuckman’s Model for Team Development
Tuckman first published his model of group dynamics in 1965. It originally comprised four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In 1977, he added a fifth stage—adjourning—and other sources have added a sixth phase, mourning.

Communicating With Others Figure 5

Figure 5. Tuckman’s Model for Team Development. In Bruce Tuckman’s original model, groups move through four stages. A fifth stage was later added.

Tuckman’s Model for Team Development isn’t normally shown as a circle. However, in the proposal environment, managers need to be aware of the potential for the team to slip. A team may move from performing back to storming, resulting in the manager having to quickly move the team through the stages again.


The main difference between a random group of people and a team is the team’s common objective. When individuals are first brought together, they do not have a common objective. They may be anxious about why they have been brought into this team. Members may be hesitant about their new environment, unsure of what they have in common with other team members, or confused as to the purpose of the project or program.

Typically, individuals will indulge in some superficial questioning of colleagues to look for more information, common ground, and possible allegiances.


Different types of individuals will behave very differently during the forming stage. This may introduce conflict between individuals or small subgroups within the team. More assertive individuals will try to impose some order by defining rules. This could result in leadership being challenged while a pecking order is established.

Assuming that a common purpose has been identified, very different views will arise as to how that purpose should be achieved.


As the issues and conflicts of the storming stage are resolved, the team starts to settle down and concentrate on tasks and issues rather than personalities. An acceptance of common values and behaviors develops with open communication that promotes constructive review and suggestions for alternatives.

The team is starting to become a cohesive unit, truly working as a team at this stage. Now a team’s capabilities can become greater than the sum of its parts.


By this stage, the team is working as a focused unit. Team members are collaborating to solve problems, and there’s a visible change in mentality from “me” to “we.” There is shared responsibility for the common goal, and individuals are confident enough to innovate and provide insights into any problems that arise.

Individuals demonstrate flexibility, with job titles becoming transparent and delegation of authority working efficiently.


This stage comes as the project or program begins to close and demobilization nears. Some team members may be distracted by their next project and pay less attention to the work at hand.

This could be a dangerous time for managers who are focused on a rapidly approaching deadline and for stakeholders who are suddenly more motivated to get involved as the point of handover approaches.

Any distractions directly affect the team. To maintain performance, the manager should work with the team to allay their concerns.


A final stage is mourning. Not every project will be mourned, but in instances where the project has been managed well and a team has worked hard to produce a great result, there may be a sense of loss.

The mourning stage is not much of a problem at the end of a project or program because it comes after its closure. It mainly affects the manager of the next piece of work who has to form a new team, some members of whom are mourning the passing of the last team. And so we come full circle.

The best approach to motivating these team members is to find out what was good and bad about the last project or program, and to encourage team members to use those experiences to benefit the new team.

6. Anticipate and manage conflict.

Conflict is usually perceived as something negative and almost invariably having a detrimental impact on the achievement of the proposal development objectives. However, conflict can be positive.

It’s also important to recognize the difference between conflict management and conflict resolution. The latter is only one aspect of the former.

The goals of conflict management are to:

  • Utilize the positive aspects of conflict
  • Resolve organizational and interpersonal conflict
  • Minimize the impact of conflict on objectives

The proposal development environment is almost designed to create conflict: people come together on a temporary basis in new and changing situations to meet a challenging set of objectives.

6.1. Maccoby and Scudder’s Five-Step Process for Conflict Management

Thamhain and Wilemon investigated projects to determine which aspects create conflict. They identified seven main sources, including schedules, priorities, and costs. They also noted how these vary in terms of the intensity of conflict they create during the project lifecycle.

While issues such as schedule, priority, and cost may be contentious, it takes people to cause a conflict. Disagreements can involve any number and variety of parties to the work. Conflict can occur between two members of the management team, someone in the management team and a supplier, or two stakeholders.

Disagreements generally arise through a host of factors, such as:

  • Conflicting working styles
  • Unspoken assumptions
  • Conflicting perceptions
  • Differing personal values
  • Emotions such as stress, fear, and uncertainty
  • Conflicting roles
  • Miscommunication

While a Bid or Proposal Manager may be skilled in conflict resolution, he or she should apply conflict management techniques to preempt and avoid conflict before it occurs.

In their book Leading in the Heat of Conflict, Michael Maccoby and Tim Scudder describe a five-step process for conflict management, with resolution being the final step. Its component activities have many parallels in proposal management.

Communicating With Others Figure 6

Figure 6. Maccoby and Scudder’s Five-Step Process for Conflict Management. During the identification and definition processes, a lot of time is spent trying to anticipate potential sources of conflict and either eliminating or reducing them.

Anticipating is almost synonymous with planning, and Bid and Proposal Managers spend a lot of time planning.

Some functions, such as requirements management and stakeholder management, sift out many potential sources of conflict and develop plans to deal with them. Risk management is also a key function here because it identifies potential sources of conflict and develops a range of responses. All of these functional areas contribute to Maccoby and Scudder’s prevention activity.

No amount of planning will remove all sources of conflict. The Bid or Proposal Manager must use control techniques and empathy to identify obvious technical and more subtle human conflicts as they emerge.

Resolution must involve confirming what all parties have agreed on and updating future plans to reflect the solution.

In effect, Maccoby and Scudder’s procedure is implicit in many proposal management functions and processes.

The Bid or Proposal Manager should anticipate conflict but not necessarily seek to avoid all of it. Some degree of conflict is seen as a necessary part of building a high-performing team, as illustrated by the “storming” stage of team development in Tuckman’s model. Facilitating healthy disagreement can help develop individuals and provide learning experiences. This must be carefully managed to prevent it from becoming counterproductive.

When negative conflict occurs, it must be resolved to minimize the damage caused.

Individual conflicts can emerge suddenly or gradually; they can be a single event or the accumulation of many small events. The intensity of conflict is usually described by the magnitude of the event(s) and their frequency.

Typical indicators of an emerging conflict include hostility, lack of cooperation, or an obvious direct challenge. Hidden conflict may be indicated by changes in style or communication, opting out of team activity, passive obstruction, or subversive behavior.

Conflict can be damaging if left unresolved. It creates uncertainty, affects morale, and undermines the effectiveness of a team. Eventually, this can result in delay or even failure to deliver the objectives.

When attempting to resolve conflict, it’s useful to distinguish its different components. A resolution is easier to find if conflict resolution focuses on factors such as data and structure rather than values and relationships.

For some forms of conflict, a mediator may be useful. A mediator must focus on the issues involved rather than the personalities. He or she must have the ability to listen actively and facilitate negotiation toward a resolution.

Conflict resolution is a complex skill, but identifying specific techniques or approaches helps managers understand what’s involved and develop the right competences.

6.2 Thomas-Kilmann’s Conflict Resolution

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann based their conflict style inventory on the managerial grid developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. They arranged five conflict resolution approaches on scales of two individual characteristics: assertiveness and cooperativeness.

Communicating With Others Figure 7

Figure 7. Thomas-Kilmann’s Conflict Resolution Model. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is used to identify an individual’s natural tendencies when dealing with conflict.

Thomas and Kilmann developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which is used to identify an individual’s natural tendencies when dealing with conflict. Those include:


People who favor this style tend to take a firm stand because they are confident in their position. They often operate from a position of power.

The style is useful when the conflict needs to be resolved urgently, when the solution is unpopular, or when the other party is trying to exploit a situation to their own advantage. Take care not to use this style inappropriately as some people will feel they have lost an argument and will be resentful.


The collaborative style tries to meet the needs of everyone involved. People who adopt this style can still be assertive but, unlike the “competitor,” they acknowledge that everyone’s views have equal importance. This style tries to bring together many viewpoints to arrive at the best solution and should be the first style employed when resolving conflicts during requirements management.


Compromise often means that all parties feel only partially satisfied because everyone has to give up something. It’s useful when the impact of the conflict on proposal development objectives outweighs the effects of breaking the impasse between equal parties. This approach is most likely to be used during the delivery phase of the lifecycle.


This style indicates that someone is prepared to meet the needs of others at the expense of his or her own needs. This is unlikely to be a suitable style for a strong Bid or Proposal Manager. It should be adopted only if it’s the only way to resolve a conflict and the impact of non-resolution is worse than the necessary concessions.


People who prefer this style seek to evade conflict or pass it on to another person. The only situation where this can be acceptable is when a Bid or Proposal Manager genuinely believes that someone else is better placed to resolve a conflict.

It would be perfectly reasonable, for example, for a Bid or Proposal Manager to pass responsibility for resolving a conflict to the sponsor—but in a structured way, not just ignoring the problem and hoping the sponsor will resolve it.

Terms to Know

See Also