- "We have a problem." Instead of "That is not acceptable" or "Your proposal won't work".
- "I would feel more comfortable if you ..." instead of "I insist that you verify that statement".
- "That is not part of the scope" instead of "You want what?"
- "Hmm. That timeline will be a challenge. Can I work with you to look for alternatives" instead of "Why will it take so long?"
Situations and problems in project meetings don't have scientific answers. When you are brainstorming and discussing alternatives for a project, then there is usually not a single right answer. The words you choose to use as the project leader influence how your project team members act and if they will choose to cooperate with you or sabotage the project.
The strange thing is that we usually don't realize the impact of our words. Words, phrases, attitude and tone influence how the message is perceived. We project without being aware that we are projecting our communication and relationship style on others. As I listen to project managers, some people have mastered the art of gaining cooperation while others merely upset everyone in the room. Generally, the project manager is blind to this impact and needs a coach to point it out.
Language skills are particularly important for project managers when addressing tough situations. It is easy to be sucked into a black hole when things are not going well, your program is over budget, behind schedule and you get a surprise a minute of new issues popping up. This is when you need to be able to focus resources on solving the problem, instead of pointing fingers. "I was not aware of that - it will be a problem" is much better than "No."
I challenge you to pay attention to the words that you use and the impact that you feel from words that other project managers use. What phrases and words can you learn and adapt for your vocabulary? What is effective and working for other program leaders? How are your peers having open and honest discussions with project sponsors when they hold tough conversations? Take notes and learn.
Now is the best time to watch your language and improve your project results.