Project Management

Lost in Translation

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected] Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Do you speak the language of your team members? Poor communication is a leading cause of project failure, according to countless industry surveys and studies. So how can project managers ensure that the messages they are sending are actually being received as they were intended?

Consider a simple conversation with one other person. We form a string of words in our brains and send them out into the world using our voice. We support the words with our intonation (how we say the words) and with our body language. Simple right? Well, not really. The person whom we are speaking with has to hear the words and how they are spoken, observe our body language, and then translate it all to gain understanding. That’s a lot of different areas where things can go wrong — mishearing the words or misinterpreting the body language or intonation can prevent the message from being understood, either partially or completely. And the margin for error increases exponentially when speaking to a group of people — your team. It’s an enormous challenge for project leaders; in fact, countless surveys show that ineffective communication is seen as the No. 1 cause of project failure.

We are conditioned to look for cues that the person that we are talking to has correctly understood the message that we have sent them — their own body language in response to our message,…


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"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."

- Johann Sebastian Bach