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ASIA PACIFIC WATCH
You may think you’re communicating perfectly clearly—but your stakeholders might not.
BY LYNDA BOURNE, DPM, PMP
Lewis Carroll’s 1872 classic Through the Looking- Glass might not seem to have much to do with the current project landscape in Asia Pacific and beyond. Yet consider this from Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to
mean—nothing more and nothing less.”
Interestingly, Mr. Dumpty’s view of communication is
similar to that of most people’s today. But if you want to
communicate with a purpose, the listener needs to under-
stand why you have chosen the
words you have.
Making a noise or sending
e-mails is not true communication; communication is a two-way process to build a common
understanding. Without that
understanding it’s impossible to
agree, disagree or resolve anything.
Although any language is
made up of words and words
have meaning, it’s context that
is critical. Take the following sentence, for instance: “Since
there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to
present the present.” It could be restated as: “Since there is
no time like the present, he thought it was time to bestow
the gift.” Most people with a command of English would
have little difficulty in distinguishing the different meanings of the word “present” within the context of the whole
But it’s not that simple, especially for project managers
working with multicultural and multilingual teams.
Context depends on a whole range of factors, including
professional background. Ask an architect for the project
plans and expect to see a bundle of drawings. Ask the same
question of a project manager and you’ll get a stack of documents, including the schedule, budget and scope.
Then there are the other languages built on industry
jargon and the shorthand used in text and Twitter messages that can be almost impenetrable to outsiders.
All these subtle differences and oddities are even more complex for team members not speaking in their first language.
“Dealing with anomalies within one’s native language is
learned from childhood,” says Khalil Saeidzadeh, PMP,
a program and project management consultant in
Melbourne, Australia. “Correctly interpreting anomalies
in another language is far more difficult.”
In face-to-face conversations, recognizing breakdowns in
communication is fairly easy. However, the arrival of e-mails,
texts and virtual teams has transformed communication.
In a virtual team, probably more than 90 percent of the
communication is based on the words in e-mails and text
messages. The rules of effective communication are different and the degree of acceptance of these “new rules” is
likely to vary by age. Most people in their 50s and 60s
need to see someone they’re dealing with at least once or
twice to build rapport and open effective communications, whereas younger people seem totally comfortable
communicating solely by e-mail and text.
What does this mean for a project manager developing a
communication plan today? The short answer is, I don’t know.
Project communication is still critically important, particularly in a region as diverse as Asia Pacific. But relying
on any set of protocols that worked in the past without a
careful assessment of their current effectiveness is likely to
It really is a new age of interconnectiveness, and project
managers in the second decade of the 21st century will
need to regularly re-evaluate what works and what needs
changing to communicate successfully with all of their
stakeholders. The only “old rule” that still holds true is if
the communication fails, it is the fault of the communicator for not checking to see if the message was received and
understood. Everything else is evolving and changing. And
if you’re not paying attention, you and your project may
end up down the rabbit hole. PM
Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP, is the managing director of
Stakeholder Management pty Ltd. and director
of training at Mosaic Project Services pty Ltd.,
both in Australia. Dr. Bourne graduated
from the Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology as the first professional doctor of