Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Language standards, part of Managing International Projects.
- I once worked on a project that involved an offshore vendor in Vietnam. Management requested that we get an update on the status of the coding work in a short time frame. A message was sent to the vendor asking for an update by close of business on Tuesday. The response came back, "Why do you need an update so quickly if you're going out of business? We want to discuss arrangements for your payment before you go out of business." Even what may seem to be simple language can trip us up.
A standard language is a must. Using a standard language on your project allows everybody on your team to communicate in the same way That's not to say it creates a level playing field, because it doesn't. Those who are not native speakers of the standard language will find communication more difficult. However, documentation, team meetings, and other communication will be delivered in the same format, ultimately making it less confusing for everybody.
Selecting a standard language can be tricky. UK, or US English, is commonly used. However, when the majority of team members communicate in another language, alternatives should be considered. Even as the project manager, if you are part of the minority of people using UK, or US English, you should consider using the language that best suits the majority of team members. This means, you will be the person who has responsiblity for learning to interpret the language of other team members And not the other way around.
Even if all of your team members are native English speakers the various versions of English can create communication problems. Spelling, in particular, the use of S and Z, or 'zed', in common English words, as well as the use of certain words, can cause problems. Some cultures use colloquialisms that are unique to their own country and have no meaning, or an entirely different meaning, in others. Whatever language is used, make it clear to all team members that it is the standard language for all project communication.
It can also be useful to avoid ambiguous words in project communication. The word, 'Fine', for example, could mean 'narrow', 'okay', or 'high quality'. Be clear in your use of words to ensure understanding. Effective communication is based on understanding. And through verification, understanding can be achieved. Verification is a process by which we send a message, and then ask those receiving the message to verify what they've heard and understood.
At first, it may seem tiresome and time consuming to have others restate what you've just said. But ensuring understanding is reached is vital to success of your project. Verification has a twofold impact: First, you can determine whether or not your message is understood. Second, it allows you to adjust your communication to suit the needs of the team. In instances where you don't get your message verified as you would expect, it is a good practice to initially assume language is the issue.
If you can confirm understanding, then address other possibilities. It may grow a bit tiresome, but continue to use the verification technique throughout the project to ensure you're on track and not going out of business.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track