In many conversations, discussions and meetings, the language and words spoken generally do not convey the whole story. Some would say that only 10 to 20% of the message in any conversation is actually conveyed through spoken words. There are facial expressions, tones of speech, hand gestures and, of course, body language. But, even taking away everything but the actual spoken word, which of course is the situation in telephone conversations, there are so many different meanings to words and sentences that it is imperative to be very careful in what you say, when talking via the telephone, to project personnel for whom your native language may be a second, third or even more distant language and who, as a result, may well miss much of the nuance in your statements.
Since much of the communication between virtual project team members in international projects will be audio only, via the telephone, it is most important that all the communicators are both careful in the language they choose to use and also in the way in which they check the message has been received in the manner it was intended.
Keep Language Simple
One of the best ways to keep your language simple and direct for all participants, regardless of their native tongue, would be to implement something similar to the special English program developed by the Voice of America radio broadcasts in the late 50’s and still in use today. This was developed with a core vocabulary of around 1,500 words to keep its news messages as simple, concise and understandable as possible. New words are added and used where appropriate, but the great majority of the news broadcast using this system uses only this core vocabulary.
While your project and industry may well have a specific dictionary of terms needed for business, the great majority of language used on teleconferences can be restricted to a reasonable number, meaning that all personnel can rapidly become familiar with this and hold more effective conversations.
Avoid Nuances, Idioms and Complex Language
Beyond that, keep the nuances as few as possible, avoid double negatives – there are few things as confusing to a non native english speaker as the question “You don’t understand that, do you?”, should they answer yes or no? the answer in fact can be as confusing to the questioner as the question was to the respondent, what would the answer of yes mean to the question… So avoid this form of language as far as possible. Similarly, avoid the use of colloquialisms and other similar speech affectations unless everyone on the call definitely understands the meaning, they can be very confusing, can display a level of exclusivity not generally wanted in a virtual team environment and are just not effective.
For many project managers and team members new to the environment of virtual international project teams, the lesson of recognising the requirements to keep conversations as simple as possible, while still getting the message across, takes considerable time to learn. Some personnel, I believe, never really do understand that the person they are speaking to may not fully understand what they are saying and will, as a result, blame the rest of the project team for the results of the breakdown of communications. Yet, if a project manager really does spend up to 90% of their time on communications as we are led to believe, they should understand how to get their message across to all members of their team, regardless of their location, language, culture of status within the project, and need only look in the mirror when communications break down.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with language challenges in teleconferences you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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