I’m continually surprised by the level of disagreement and argument that occurs simply because the people conversing are working from different definitions of basic words.

Have you ever had this conversation …

Project Manager: Can we complete this project by the deadline?

Developer: No.

Project Manager: But I’ve already promised the customer that we can.

Developer (to himself): WTF?

I believe the problem here comes from a difference in how the word “No” is understood.

In the above conversation, the developer was using the word No to express a Fact: If we continue the way we are going, we will not deliver by the deadline. The Project Manager, however, thought that No was the start of negotiation.

As long as these two people continue to use the language in different ways, they’re going to continue to have trouble communicating.

The key is for one of them to realise (discover) the way the other thinks, and to speak in their language.

If the Project Manager realises that the developer is talking about facts, the conversation might go like this:

Project Manager: Can we complete this project by the deadline?

Developer: No.

Project Manager: What’s getting in the way of making the deadline?

Developer: We just don’t have enough time to deliver everything that’s been agreed.

Project Manager: What can we do?

Developer: We need to …

(Tip for Project Managers: We developers love to solve problems, both big and small. Asking us how to solve your problem isn’t taking advantage so much as giving us a challenge we’ll enjoy.)

Alternatively, what happens if the Developer recognises that the Project Manager treats everything as a negotiation.

Project Manager: Can we complete this project by the deadline?

Developer: We can’t make the deadline unless we make some changes - we just don’t have enough time to deliver everything that’s been agreed.

Project Manager: I’ve already promised the customer that we can meet the deadline.

Developer: We can make the deadline if we make some changes. We need to …

Clear communication between team members is a vital component of project success, and it requires more than just a common tongue - it requires that people are not only speaking the same language but using it the same way.

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