Project Management & China Project & Intercultural Communication

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In a company, the most diverse personalities meet in an often-hierarchical structure, which can create a challenging political environment. Various questions arise in a company. Who will prevail, who will ultimately receive recognition for the success of a project and take responsibility for failures? In a project itself, stakeholder management is one of the main tasks of a project manager. Among the possible stakeholders are e.g. the customer, the own company, the employees. In order to be able to perform this task well, the project manager needs political skills in addition to organizational skills. Projects are normally not part of the structure of a company. They often connect several departments or form a completely new unit in a company. Because a project typically does not represent a typical hierarchical level in the company, several problems arise for the project manager. One problem is that the project manager in most companies does not have a stable basis from which to act, such as a department manager (see Pinto, 2000, p. 85). 

In addition, due to the special position in the company, resources (personnel, money, premises) almost always have to be negotiated before and during the project (see Pinto, 2000, p. 85). Normally the project manager has only the technical leadership responsibility over the coworker and not the disciplinary one (see Pinzo, 2000, p. 86). He thus lacks the possibility of carrying out direct measures. For example, disciplinary measures can only be carried out via the path of the 'organizational' manager. Even if the employee is to be rewarded for his good performance, this can only be done via the normal route. In a multicultural environment, political complexity can increase as a result of different attitudes to hierarchies. In China, for example, strong hierarchies are desired by employees, while in Germany, for example, less strict organizational structures are slowly gaining ground (Rau et al., 2011, p. 704).

Technical skills

Project managers are normally not directly involved in the creation of the service, they do not have to be on the same level of knowledge as the 'producing' part of the project team (see The Skills of a Project Manager, 2019, p. 2). Technical competence in the respective area of expertise of the project can be helpful in identifying problems early on (see The Skills of a Project Manager, 2019, p. 2). At the same time, however, caution is required because the project manager must not slip into micromanagement (see The Skills of a Project Manager, 2019, p. 2). The hard skills of a project manager are methodological competence in various project management methods and business knowledge. Gillard (2009, p. 725) writes on this topic 'Some, though seemingly a declining number, still cling to the opinion that the technical expertise of the project manager is of paramount importance for success. Others suggest that interpersonal or 'soft' skills are the primary determinant of success and still others hold that both technical background and leadership skills are necessary for project management success.' The consensus on the relevance of product-related technical skills is that these skills can be an advantage when used correctly but are no longer a must. In a multicultural environment, a possible multilingualism of the team places an additional demand on the project manager. Fluent English is a must; speaking other languages is a great advantage (see Morlan, 2012, p. 39).

What is culture?

Culture can be seen as something that influences the “individual perception, thinking, values, judgments and actions of the persons who feel connected to this particular social community such as society [...]”. (Spektrum, 2010)


Interculturality happens when two different cultural system get in contact with each other that have major differences in them. A common difference between different cultures is the one of context. When contexts are different there is a great potential for misunderstanding when interacting. (Burkert, 2014, p. 13)

On the far bottom there is a box which contains the interculturality. The interculturality thus is a result of all these elements interacting. The result of the own properties and the foreign properties interact with the other influences the common properties of both cultures. This set of properties interacting with another then results in interculturality.

High-Context versus Low-Context cultures

There are different ways to categorize different cultures. Since in intercultural project management the ability to communicate is crucial for a successful project it makes sense to look at the Low-Context Culture versus High-((Context Culture model from Edward T. Hall (1956). This model suggests that there are two categories cultures can be ranked with.

The first kind of culture that exists is called the High-Context Culture. Communicators of this culture transmit their messages mainly through nonverbal context. This means that “the explicit code, or the words actually spoken, carries the message” (Mateev, 2017, p. 46) This means that a communicator of high context culture does not say what they take for granted that the other person knows and the message is rather implicit. (Hernández-Pozas, 2019, p. 119) The communication tactics of a communicator from a High-Context Culture strongly involves persuasion. (Hernández-Pozas, 2019, p. 121)

The second kind of culture in this model is the Low-Context Culture. In this culture “the explicit code, or the words actually spoken, carries the message” (Mateev, 2017, p. 46) The message is rather explicit since most of the information I contained in the coded part of it. (Hernández-Pozas, 2019, p. 119) This means that the medium the message is carried through is not as important as the actual message itself. (Mateev, 2017, p. 46)

Figure 2 shows different culture ranked depending on how Low- or High-Context the culture is. The cultures with the highest context, so the ones sending the message most implicit are listed on the top. The cultures with the lowest context are at the far bottom meaning they are the cultures sending the message most explicit. In this you can see that the countries with the highest context seem to be Asian whereas the cultures with the lowest context seem to be mostly western.


Communication is „the process by which messages or information is sent from one place or person to another” (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, 2019).

Communication does not only involve the message that is being transmitted verbally but also the part of the message that is being transmitted through nonverbal cues such as gestures and mimic. (Mateev, 2017, p. 45)

Facettes of a message

Aside from the verbal and the nonverbal side of a message there is another often used model to analyse a message and how it can be received.

This model includes four properties a message inherits. These include the factual information, the self-disclosure, the relationship and the appeal. (Geipel, 2017)

The factual information is the actual message without any assessment. The self-revelation includes information about what the sender reveals about himself, for example his mood. The facet about the relationship reveals information about the relationship between sender and receiver. Lastly there is the appeal of a message. This part contains intention of the message it tells the receiver what the sender wants him to do. (Geipel, 2017)

In different cultures the ways of interpreting all these aspects of a message can differ vastly which can cause problem when actors of different culture communicate. (Geipel, 2017)

Intercultural Communication

The term intercultural communication generally describes the communication between actors of different cultural backgrounds and how these backgrounds might challenge the communication. (Burkert, 2014, p. 13) These interaction for the most part requires at least one party who requires to use a foreign language. Communicators from different cultures underlie different contextualization. This means that they have certain expectations in communication including pauses while talking or the changes of the person speaking but also differences in the setting from which they interpret a message. (Burkert, 2014, p. 13)

“The theory of contextualization assumes that by performing their (verbal and non-verbal) actions, interactors simultaneously make them interpretable and thus construct the context in which the actions are embedded themselves” (Günthner, 2010, p. 284) This means that both verbal and nonverbal clues in communication are vital to reach a common understanding.

Another factor that is an influence in intercultural communication is that cultures have a set expectation of sequences in a communication. Whereas after doing someone a favour western cultures expect a thank you in the Japanese cultures excuse themselves. (Loveday, 1982)

Even in the nonverbal communication there are challenges. A communicator that uses small amount of gestures might be confused by a communicator who utilizes an extensive amount of gestures. (Burkert, 2014, p. 16) These challenges can severely interfere with the communication itself. As the pattern off interpretation of different cultures differ from each other the communicating parties can have trouble understanding the message entirely. (Burkert, 2014, p. 13) Also, the lack of a common sequence in communication could lead to confusion. (Burkert, 2014, p. 16) To cope with all these challenges a good communicator needs have extensive knowledge about cultural facts, be open minded towards other cultures and be respectful as well as being able to show empathy. (Burkert, 2014, p. 20)

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Project Management & China Project & intercultural communication. (2021, Dec 30). Retrieved May 18, 2024 , from

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