Leading means one thing above all: communication! However, the exchange of information is not always easy in international project teams. So what do you have to consider? In this series of articles, we show how you lead project teams to success – and which communication rules apply.
How do misunderstandings in communication arise? How do different cultures interpret the elements of body language? And which media should you use? There are no limits to the questions. And that’s no wonder, since good communication is one of the key success factors for a cross-cultural project. We give answers for good communication!
Avoiding misunderstandings – the goal of good communication
Managers spend a large part of their working day communicating. Avoiding misunderstandings is probably the biggest challenge you have to master when defining rules for communication. In international project teams, different languages can lead to different opinions. The way expressions or body language elements are interpreted can also vary from culture to culture.
3 examples that can lead to problems in communication
1. Tardiness at project meetings
The understanding of time and appointments is not understood in the same way in every culture. While we Germans are the ones who stick to deadlines, we encounter a lack of understanding from southerners. As a project manager, you have to develop the necessary discipline to meet deadlines. To help, you can schedule meetings at the same time weekly to get your international employees used to it.
2. Greeting rituals
Eye contact, bows, handshakes – not every culture greets one another in the same way. While Arabs, Indians or South Americans see physical contact as building trust, Europeans or Asians tend to keep their distance. In addition to personal discomfort, disregard can be felt. You should therefore already define rules of conduct and communication in the kick-off meeting.
3. Interruption of the interlocutor
In some cultures, interrupting someone is an absolute no go! But that’s not the case everywhere. Although both Asian and Nordic cultures prohibit interruptions, South Americans and Europeans are true masters of this discipline. Not because they’re being rude, but because interrupting is a sign of interest. Set rules for this as well to avoid misunderstandings.
Posture, gestures, facial expressions – non-verbal communication plays a role across cultures
If the mother tongue is not the same, we try to understand each other with hands and feet. Non-verbal communication is therefore of particular importance in international project teams. But that doesn’t always happen consciously. We often unconsciously let our feelings and thoughts run free through posture, gestures and facial expressions.
When it comes to facial expressions, interpretations across cultures are very similar. The transported feelings are usually understood equally well, regardless of whether we express surprise, anger or joy. It becomes more difficult with gestures and posture. Both can have different meanings in different cultures. Just think of the greeting ritual of shaking hands, or simply leaning forward to listen better. Both are common with us Germans, while in other cultures they are perceived as impolite or aggressive.
10 communication rules for international project teams
You see, other cultures have different customs. It is all the more important that you have firm rules for communication at hand in order to avoid misunderstandings with international project teams. We give you practical tips for your day-to-day management as a project manager:
1. Choose a suitable communication medium
Whether it’s a face-to-face meeting, video conference, telephone call or discussion group – think about which form is best for your project and everyone involved. Also take into account the language difficulties. Telephone conferences in particular can become a challenge, as the lack of eye contact makes understanding even more difficult.
2. Install security
One of the most important communication rules: Determine in advance how you imagine a fair exchange of information in your project team. In this way, you ensure that team members do not limit their communication – for example, out of fear of making mistakes.
3. Agree on a common language
Before each conversation, you should consider the language skills of everyone involved. Choose a language that can be used by all participants in the conversation and also commit yourself to a phrasing style and a speed at which you speak.
4. Note the choice of words
You should refrain from using technical terms or colloquial words. Use familiar basic vocabulary terms that anyone can understand. Avoid quotations, buzzwords or filler words and rely on short main clauses and few subordinate clauses.
5. Consider All Opinions
Worlds sometimes collide in a discussion. Some who hold back for fear of losing face, and others who get too involved in the discussion and don’t let the rest have their say. Make sure that everyone involved is equally involved and that you encourage the quieter ones to express their opinions. Also note that team members who need time to formulate should not be pressured but allowed to speak up.
6. Use a circular seating arrangement
To avoid creating a power imbalance in the arrangement of the participants, you can hold meetings in a circular seating arrangement. So neither you as a project manager nor team members sit further in front or behind than others. No one is privileged or disadvantaged as a result. At the same time, you can take on your neutral moderator role much better.
7. Limit speaking time
Make sure that nobody plays the solo entertainer. You can limit the speaking time with the help of your communication rules and set it to 10 minutes per person, for example. In this way, everyone can have their say at the beginning and describe their point of view before you enter into the open discussion. Both quieter and more dominant people have the same chances.
8. Switch moderator role
So that you remain in a neutral position and the team spirit is strengthened, the moderator role can change at regular intervals, just like the person responsible for the minutes. At the same time, each team member can better empathize with this role.
9. Visualize your arguments
Presented content is better understood when you visualize it. Especially in international project teams, where the language causes difficulties, pictures, graphics or diagrams offer a good opportunity to present things in a more understandable way.
10. Train yourself
Make sure you make your presentation easy to understand. This includes clear pronunciation, constant eye contact, underlining facial expressions, gestures and posture, pauses in speaking, questions, repetitions and much more.