Watch your words

The words you use when you are facilitating decisions around project management strategy need to be chosen carefully so you get people’s engagement, buy-in and trust, and you don’t put them on the defensive.  Simple sentences can mean the difference between team members who feel inspired to pour their creativity into solving a problem versus them feeling adversarial and not wanting to work to hard to extend themselves.  You must watch your words.

For example if you are phrasing something to someone to describe where it is at in comparison of where it needs to be, you have a choice of words to use and we’ll look at that in terms of two options.  For example Option 1 would be to say:  “So you have steps 1, 2 and 3 completed and now you need to finish steps 4 and 5.  When do you think you will be able to get those done?”  Option 2 would be to say:  “So steps 1, 2 and 3 are complete and now steps 4 and 5 need to be done.  What time frames are realistic for the completion of 4 and 5.”

While the difference between options seems subtle.  The choice in Option 2 of leaving out the word “you” will generate a less confrontational discussion.  There will be some that argue that Option 1 makes people more accountable.  However I would counter that in a project management situation, there is no doubt who has which roles, and so your biggest challenge is to build a feeling of commitment that goes above and beyond the task and to-do list.

The increasing complexities of projects demands that your team members be ever more creative and inspired in looking for the optimum solutions.  Re-reading Options 1 and 2 you get a very different sense of expectations.  In Option 1 it is about the problem resting with the individual to resolve.  In Option 2, you can be sure they understand it is their responsibility, although you never say it.  However the focus moves from the individual activities, to the accomplishment of the deliverable.

Moving from a focus on the individual to a focus on the deliverable is subtle but fundamental.  When people move their focus to what is being achieved instead of themselves many more alternatives and ideas come to mind.  Additionally, when focus moves to the object, it inspires more collaborative problem solving and this is what you want from your team.  Project Management isn’t so much about making a list of tasks and assigning them as it is about inspiring and leading people, so you need to watch your words and ensure you are achieving the creative problem solving and commitment that you need to succeed.