Communication for Design Professionals

communication for design professionals


Communication for Design Professionals




SEALED AND DELIVERED A RISK MANAGEMENT PUBLICATION FOR DESIGN PROFESSIONALS Communication is how information is exchanged. It occurs in various forms–face to face, phone calls, plans, data, correspondence and, increasingly, via electronic mediums. The speed at which communication occurs and the ways in which we communicate are rapidly changing. Meetings now regularly occur through web-based platforms, conversations take place over instant message systems and file sharing is common. Regardless of how it occurs, effective internal and external communication makes it more likely that a project will be successful. By implementing effective communication techniques, design professionals can set their projects up for success, build and preserve relationships and avoid or minimize claims. Internal Communications For Design Professionals, managing risk starts internally and establishing effective internal communications is essential. Design firms can benefit from promoting a culture of openness and transparency and creating a safe space where junior and senior colleagues can share ideas, discuss issues on projects and offer suggestions and support. A culture that fosters open discourse and employee engagement encourages the frank discussion of potential issues and mistakes. Regular meetings to discuss project issues and solutions will nurture a culture that focuses on problem solving rather than blame. Open-door policies, round tabling of issues and regular discussions with senior leadership can help to more quickly identify issues and viable solutions. Within the design team itself, addressing potential problems early on in a project and focusing on solutions makes a successful outcome more likely. External Communications In external communications, Design Professionals should pay careful attention to the mode of communication. The method of communication can present opportunities and also risk. Informal communications such as text messages or instant messages are generally fast and efficient, and may create greater interpersonal connections and relationships. However, oftentimes less preparation, thought and review may go into informal communications, which can be problematic. Further, if there is a dispute or claim, text messages and instant messaging may not be retrievable. As such, the Design professional should be careful when using these modes of communication and they should be limited to activities not tied to project approvals or documentation, such as scheduling of meetings. A significant amount of today’s business communications is done via email. As with all written methods of communication, thought should be given before sending emails. Take the time needed to prepare an appropriate response. Continually hitting “respond to all” may not be the best approach. If there is a lengthy email chain involving unrelated communications, the purpose of the communication may be better served by creating an entirely new email with reference to the specific topic being addressed. As well, only the appropriate recipients should be included.


RISK MANAGEMENT TIP: Effective Communication as a Risk Management Tool Communicating with Your Client Many times, Design professionals can head off potential disputes by establishing effective client communication at the outset. Effective client communication involves active listening. Encourage your client to ask questions and provide feedback. Seek affirmation that the client does understand the information and obtain approval for any changes. Do not make assumptions. It is important to respond in a timely manner. Failure to set reasonable expectations as to performance and then failing to comply with them can lead to an eroding relationship. Keep the client informed and provide reasonable updates of any delay that is experienced. It may be appropriate to push back against unreasonable expectations. Communications with the client, and others, should be clear, concise and complete. In some situations where there is disagreement, it can be beneficial to have more senior members on both sides of the dispute engage in discussions. Just as communications impact relationships, strong relationships can lead to better communication and resolve disputes. Communication When a Problem Arises In the event a problem arises on a project, the issue should be escalated but use caution in written documents. Avoid a response that you may regret later. Take time and give yourself space before finalizing a drafted response. Seek input from others, which may include internal resources and also ones provided by your insurance carrier. Discussion with clients and others in the face of problems should be focused on the situation, facts and possible solutions. While you will need to discuss the issue with the client, you should not say anything that will viewed as an admission of liability. An error or omission may not create legal liability. There are potential coverage implications under a liability policy to an assumption of liability or a voluntary payment. If a client or other party seeks to have you accept responsibility or asserts a claim, you should inform them that you need to notify your insurance carrier of any claims and end any further discussion about the claim. All communications, whether internal or external, should use a professional tone. Try to keep in mind that your communication may be produced in an arbitration or litigation if a dispute develops.

Communications should be:

• Professional and factual • Neutral in tone • Avoid feelings, emotions or charged comments • Avoid discussions of blame or fault • Avoid legal references Implementing effective internal and external communications can help Design Professionals position their firms, projects and business relationships for on-going success. For more information about the importance of communications, please see our Advisory Bulletin “Keys to Effective Internal and External Communications” and listen to our webinar recording with the same title. Both can be accessed on Travelers new home for risk management resources at  To get a professional liability quote from Travelers please contact us here.

Previous Post
Waiver of subrogation in policies for architects/engineers
Next Post
Common exclusions in a professional liability policy