Yeah, I know it’s one day past August, with its ProjectManagement.com’s theme of communications, but there’s one more salient point I want to make. It has to do with non-verbal communications, but don’t worry – I would never send GTIM Nation members down the highly-subjective path of trying to interpret body language nuances or motions differentiated by the slightest of degrees (did she just cover her mouth with her left hand, or was it just past her chin?). No, this variety of non-verbals is much more blatant. In fact, it’s almost unavoidable. This set of communications has to do with the presentation style and types of arguments used to establish credibility within the PM world, but they both ultimately communicate the same thing: the speaker is incompetent, but is desperate to hide it. First under the microscope: appeals to irrelevant things or ideas.
Like everybody else in the Universe I have had occasion to work with people on a team effort where some disagreement about how to proceed would come up. In trying to understand and work through those differences, some people would be asked to explain where they were coming from, and they did just that: literally. Instead of discussing the PM strategy or technique at hand, they would talk about their travels overseas, as if getting one’s passport stamp automatically imbued them with PM insights. I guess they believed that the appeal of a cosmopolitan experience and its association with a broader, more enlightened knowledge base somehow advanced their take on management science in a more local setting. Do I have to say it? If your argument is supported by little more than material that is barely above home movies taken on vacation, then your assertions probably don’t belong in a managerial setting. By appealing to something so completely irrelevant to the topic at hand in order to persuade (or bully, really) others, what’s being communicated is clear: these people lack competence.
Next up is any appeal to who a person is, or has studied under, or is related to. We’ve all been subject to people who can’t keep from trying to showcase their credentials and, while irksome, isn’t necessarily an indicator of a complete lack of practical skill. It’s only when the technical discussion gets heated, and any of the participants suddenly swerves to what they believe is their social or academic rank that the incompetency alarm bells ought to go off. Examples of this kind of appeal to status are so common that I’m sure GTIM Nation has seen them regularly. The only thing that I tend to take away from such assertions is that the person making them isn’t confident in the technical merits of their assertions, and would really rather not have anybody evaluate them too closely.
Finally, there’s a certain bombastic, belligerent way of delivering a message, particularly when it comes to the implementation strategies proposed for Project Management Information Systems, and especially those predicated on either the Critical Path or Earned Value Methodologies. I’m well aware that many in our industry can be passionate and aggressive in their presentation styles, and I absolutely do not mean to cast aspersions on everyone in this category. But I would like to draw GTIM Nation’s attention to a very specific subset, that of those who are given to both passion and aggression, but layered with a heavy dose of condescension, along the lines of everybody-who-disagrees-with-me-is clearly-an-idiot. The use of arrogant condescension, coupled with an aggressive delivery, is very off-putting to most people, and most people will also tend to avoid confrontations in a professional negotiation setting. The condescending person will use that tendency to their advantage in order to hide their incompetency, their failure to understand that the way PM Information Systems are actually implemented is a very different subject from their efficacy once in use.
Project communications grounded in legitimate premises and logically-derived conclusions do not need the well-travelled, the high-ranking, or the condescending to present them in such a way as to influence the Project Team. If you see any project communications presented in these ways, just ask yourself: what’s really being communicated here?