A Lesson in Communication ...
by Kathi VanOverberghe, PMP
Our message is as much what we say as what we don't say.
Project management is
90% communication with our verbal message delivered through our
tone as well as our words. The strength of that message is enhanced
- or diminished - through our non-verbal cues. Communication goes
beyond providing direction and creating accountability. It is about
building an environment of trust and mutual respect.
So is it reflected
in project success?
I had the opportunity to work on a large project
in North Africa. It was my first international job and proved to
be exciting as well as a bit intimidating. Intimidating because
I found myself immersed in a unique business climate. I was an
English-speaking contact interfacing with a client organization
where many employees were not well versed in English. The situation
was compounded by vast cultural differences which presented a landmine
of obstacles that could result in the wrong message being "heard." As
would be expected, there were many successes and failures along
the way for both organizations while navigating the communication
One experience in particular crystallized in my
mind the power of both verbal and non-verbal communication ...
an eye-opening lesson that reminded me of the importance of a skill
that sometimes gets lost amid the focus of delivering results.
developing a framework for the project budget, I met with the client
to establish a plan for gathering data. My senior contact was well
versed in English, but he delegated implementation to an employee
who did not speak English. This required a translator, adding another
During my first information-gathering meeting,
the translator and I walked into the team member's office to a
cool and indifferent reception. As the translator delivered the
message, I was acutely aware that my interaction with the translator
was being closely observed. Timing and client cooperation were
critical to this project, so each day that we left the office without
a commitment was discouraging. However, on the fourth day things
were different. The team member greeted me with a handshake and
a smile, as well as the preliminary data that had been requested
all week. But most shockingly, he spoke directly to me ... in English!
He was straightforward when he told me that he wanted to see and
hear my words to determine if he could trust me to respect him
and his team. Having effectively passed my communication "test," we
proceeded to work together, reaching successful closure.
a small but meaningful lesson, reminding me of the power of our
message ... as heard in any language.