Silence can be golden

2013

In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, one of my favourite reads, we learn about a race called the Belcerebons from Kakrafoon Kappa who had a very unhappy time.

Once a serene and quiet civilization, a Galactic Tribunal sentenced them to the powers of telepathy solely because the rest of the galaxy found that peaceful contemplation a contemptuous thing. As a result Ford Prefect compared them to humans because the only way the Belcerebons could stop transmitting their every thought to each and every other Belcerebon was to mask their brain activity by talking endlessly about complete and utter trivia.

I have recently gone back to commuting into London and so have been spending far more time than I would like on trains into the city (and home again). And it's struck me that the Belcerebons aren't a product of fiction at all. In fact they now inhabit a new planet – right here with us on earth – more particularly the standard-class coaches of the inter-city express that I am forced to share with them.

Now, of course, I own a mobile phone and I have it switched on. But apart from the occasional text message it is normally left on 'silent'. But even at 7am, there seem to be plenty of Belcerebons squeezed onto my carriage who have an insatiable need to exchange monumentally unimportant trivia about their personal and working lives through the medium of shouting into their phone.

OK, but what has this to do with project management?

I have frequently said that the major difference between competent project managers and good project managers is how they communication.

Good communication is the perfect harmony of the right message delivered the right way and at the right time. Much of this timing comes from planning for such communication. But more than that, it comes from being able to filter out unnecessary communication that delivers no value and only distracts others.

Good communication also grows out of thought and reflection, often through periods of silent contemplation. Think about it: if everybody involved in a project attempted to communicate to everyone else at the same time, then little or no communication would really take place. That's not to say that there won't sometimes be the need to exchange information at a moment's notice, but for the most part this is not the case. Normally, things can wait. In fact it is often far more effective to wait.

I think that instead of one 'quiet' coach on each train for those who want some peace on their journey, there should be one coach allocated solely to those whose lives are far more important than the rest of us and whose every thought needs to be conveyed immediately (and loudly). Let them all sit in one place and out-shout each other. They'll probably enjoy it.

Perhaps I am becoming a grumpy old so-and-so, but I just feel that in project management (and life in general), less is most definitely more, especially when it comes to communication.

Just don't get me started on the looming nightmare of allowing mobile phones on planes…

Happy travelling!

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About The Author

Peter Taylor
Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. An entertaining speaker in the project management world, he also acts as an independent consultant coaching executive sponsors.