What does your language say about you?

During this blog post, I wanted to explore how the language that you use during your project meetings and your team can improve and help the project in the long run. What you say and how you say it will impact everything related to the project. The words that you use can positive or negatively reaffirm the project status, your team motivation and the relationship that you have between your team and your stakeholders.

What does your language say about you??

How you speak and what you say are some of the most important traits of communication that you can have as a Project Manager. Especially if you are working with teams in remote locations, your communication will be key for not only their understanding of the project but also what they need to be doing and managing their expectations.

When looking at the type of language you are using, you also need to be aware of who you are speaking to and how you are speaking to them. An example of this is something I use in my every day work: I am a native English speaker but I tend to work 95% of my time with non English native speakers and this means that I adapt my language, tone and speed accordingly. I have seen that when this doesn’t happen, it can cause a lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings to occur, especially when it comes to something like humour which can be easily misinterpreted. The English are known for their dry sense of humour and this often gets misunderstood as being rude by some cultures.

I would recommend that you do the following two activities and analyse critically what your language says about you and how you are being understood by your team:

  • Task 1: Record yourself during a team meeting and listen back to identify the following:
    • Are you being clear in what you are asking/expecting from your team?What tone are you using to talk to them? Are you giving your team enough time to talk/ respond to your questions/comments?
  • Task 2: Take one of your emails that you send during the week and ask yourself:
    • Is your email clearly written? (i.e. is the recipient clear? are you being clear in what you’re asking?)
    • Are you using language/words that will be understood by all of the people it is being sent to? (e.g. no slang/ colloquialism that may not be understood)

What is the impact of negative language?

In my experience and history of Projects, I’ve seen a lot of negative language being used and sometimes it’s intentional and other times, it’s purely a reaction to heated project situations. Here are a few examples where negative language has caused problems within the project.

Example 1: Colleague A was known to be a bit of a gossip and was seen around the coffee machine talking negatively about the project status and how certain team members were performing. This was heard by a Senior Stakeholder who escalated immediately to the Project Manager that the project was running out of control and demanded a formal update… the actual status? The project was running fine and the team member performance had no bearing on the actual status of the project.

Example 2: You are working with a customer who are extremely invested and passionate about the project and it’s deliverables. They are so passionate that when things are not going right (in their opinion) they start shouting and getting angry and aggressive towards anyone in that meeting. As the 3rd party vendor, you are naturally responsible and therefore receive most of the shouting. Every team member involved in this meeting becomes demotivated and some even refuse to attend

What can you do to change your language?

If you notice that you need to adjust your language then I would take great care to identify the issue with your language and then see how you can improve it. Some examples could be:

  • If you find that your tone is the problem; practice adjusting it before the meeting
  • If your language is an issue, create a list of ‘alternative’ words that could be used instead so that you have it easily available
  • If you are not being clear in your communication; prepare what you want to say in advance and follow this list precisely and do not deviate from this list.
  • If speed is an issue, have someone interrupt you or give you a cue when you are speaking too fast. You can also write: SLOW DOWN! on your notes if you are working in a virtual environment.

What if you’re not the problem?

It could also be the case that you’re not the problem in the project and it is instead a colleague/team member. As the Leader, I would address this with the person involved directly and in an appropriate manner for the situation. This could be in a 1-1 conversation but could also be a formal discussion around project boundaries and behaviour.

If we use the previous example given of a colleague who was talking negatively and gossiping, I would approach the colleague in question and discuss their concerns and also address what impact their influence has on the overall team and its performance and why if they have concerns or issues about the project, to be addressing this directly to you as Project Leader.

With the customer, I would be polite but firm about the language that is used and if this does not resolve the issue, escalate it towards your management to have this formally raised with the customer.

Conclusion:

Language is critical to a successful Project and communication. During coaching sessions with my Junior Project Managers, I strongly emphasis the role that language plays in their project and what they can do to address this without causing major issues in projects.

How you communicate with your team and the communication that goes on in your project will be critical to it’s overall success. Do not be afraid to analyse your own language and behaviour and see how you are able to change and alter it.

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