Saturday, October 20, 2012

2        Literature Review

            The section reviews extant materials in the form of research studies, books and journal articles that define the conceptual framework where the role of communication can be situated in the context of a multicultural diversity in the workplace.  An examination of the society of the UAE where such project managements are carried out locally or on a global scale provides the backdrop in the study.  The value and the role of communication is then discussed and its implications and benefits in managing team members are then explored towards the end.

2.1       UAE Progress under a Multicultural Environment

            Polish academicians Kamrowska-Zaluska and Goledzinowska (2012) calls the UAE rise from the a non-descript underdeveloped Arab desert village of fishermen and pearl divers (Randall, 2010) in the 70s to a thriving mega-metropolis of the 21st century as a spectacular specimen in hyper-dynamic developmental growth in a multicultural urban setting that defined the global standard for a developing nation while at the same emphasizing on its tradition of multiculturalism.  The UAE is considered among the youngest states in the world but also one of the most dynamic in terms of infrastructure development and is the most cosmopolitan and westernized nation in the region (Miller, 2011).  Randall (2010) points to its tolerant Islamic society, oil-based wealth and rapid development driven by the influx of foreign workers from the lowly taxi driver to construction workers, teachers and doctors who have further enriched its multicultural diversity with English assuming a second language and widely used in business (Miller, 2011).
            Fig 1 shows the steady growth in the UAE population across its major cities. What relevance does the UAE population growth have on the research?  Not much unless the population has a multicultural diversity involved in major infrastructure projects behind the transformation of the country to become one of the most developed tiger economies the Asian continent, thanks larges to its oil products and exports (Shihab, 2001). As a result of unabated influx of foreign workers and expatriates migrating to the Emirates, the native Emiratis are effectively outnumbered in their own country, with around 85% of the population migrants as shown in Fig. 2.  The largest ethnic groups come from India and Pakistan which at 51% already comprise more than half the nation’s residents. Despite the cultural diversity, the   most pervasively spoken languages are Arabic and/or English. However, the highly skilled professionals from the west are visible but small part of this society - the great mass of the population are South Asian contract labourers, who are legally bound to a single employer (Davis, 2007).
            The economic stability and prosperity of the country have spawned various developmental and infrastructure projects which attracted FDI inflows creating more jobs than the local workforce can competently fill, thus, further increasing the attractiveness for the country to foreign workers as evidenced by the continuous influx of migrant workers from the region, Asia and western countries. Brenner and Kell (2006) consider this hyper-developmental trend as a direct offshoot of the globalization that the country has embraced since the end of the 20th century.  The trend sits well with the tradition of benign multicultural tolerance that has seen the region develop as a mecca for various ethnic groups to settle over the centuries.  Abetted and encouraged by the globalization trends that have significantly altered the social landscape of the country (Elsheshtawy, 2009), the concept of a “world citizen” where the world could well be seeing the roots of starting right at the heat of the Dubai metropolis. Needless to say, the project management needed to undertake the various developmental projects face a social dimension of multicultural complexity that is rarely, if at all, encountered in most  first world and developing countries in the West  
            The UAE is a federation of seven emirates with laws at federal and emirate levels.
The Islamic federation has enunciated its commitment to among the best counties in the world by 2021.  This is the national Vision 2021 ( with the slogan: “United in ambition, and determination. “  The vision looks at four developmental elements that will concretize this vision – a socially responsible emirates, prosperous families, strong and active communities, and a vibrant culture founded on progressive moderate Islamic values. The country has embarked on several programs that will successfully carve out this vision into a socio-economic reality over the next decade, drawing on the country’s strong heritage of family and societal bonds, innovation and technical skills, and progressive moderate Islamic values.
            One of these programs, and the most consequential of them, is the development of the country’s infrastructures, industries and commerce that will tap on the best-of-breed disciplines and practices from disparate peoples, mostly from the Western, and East and Southeast Asian nations as well as developing countries that have achieved economic and industrial successes.  What this implies to local enterprises engaged in managing projects and to the government that endorses such projects is the need for an added dimension of micromanaging the social and cultural diversity in project management – something that has not bedevilled industrialized nations who have undertaken similar projects in the past.  These countries have tapped more on their local expertise, presenting no significant socio-cultural barriers as what now confronts the UAE today and over the last decade is achieving its current status as a world class country with higher aspirations to achieving the best for its Vision 2021.
Table 1:  Percentage of migrants to total population in the UAE from 1990 to 2010 (Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009). Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2008).
International migrants as a percentage of the population
Estimated number of international migrants at mid-year
1 330 324
1 715 980
2 286 174
2 863 027
3 293 264

Table 1 shows a high percentage of foreign mix in the UAE population which currently stands at roughly 4.7 million as of 2010, while Figure 3 shows the mix of nationalities comprising these migrant workers (UN, 2012). It is clear that foreign stock dominates the country’s population and this high level of migratory influx can be traced to the government’s liberal policies and the local people’s tolerant attitudes despite having a culture and religion considered less tolerant than their counterparts in Western and East Asian countries.  

2.2       Government Support for Multicultural Projects

            Recognizing the inherent problems that have widespread and consistent reach in managing diverse cultures to bring the country’s vision to reality, the Dubai government has taken the necessary steps to support companies engaged in these projects. Towards Vision 2021, the government has enunciated a three-headed strategic program that will promote effective government communication (UAE 2011).  These are as follows:
• Enhance the visibility and credibility of the Federal Government  by fully  utilizing existing and new communication channels to reach all key segments,  and ensuring fact based communication and media engagement in a  proactive manner
• Create a distinct and unified Federal Government identity by developing and implementing unified standards for the Federal Government’s identity
• Enhance the role of communication in policy-making and cultural change by utilizing communication as an input to policy-making and strategy development, leveraging communication to support policy execution, promoting internal communication tools, and building communication systems, capacities and skills

            One of the pillars supporting these strategies is clearly driven by communication and media engagement considered essential is reshaping the cultural dynamics of a nation that has been largely dependent on a multicultural mix of foreign and local workforce behind projects that have catapulted the nation to where it is today.
            Recently, Gulfnews reported that the UAE Ministry of Labour reiterated its commitment to implement the instructions of the country’s Head of State, President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to protect the rights of contractual workers involved in local projects (Gulfnews, 2012).  Mubarak Saeed Al Daheri, the Labour Undersecretary made clear this commitments to enforce relevant legislation as well as supervisory and regulatory policies to maintain a balanced relationships between local employers and foreign contractual workers in a speech before a Nepalese delegation to discuss and promote Nepalese workers in the UAE.

2.3       High Profile Multicultural UAE Projects

            2.3.1    The Palm Island Jumeirah project

            Property development projects in the UAE are composed of highly diverse management teams in one major construction project that spanned almost a decade to complete, the presence of several nationalities with different cultures, religions, values and languages working as project participants created numerous challenges.  Orrill (2010) recounts that the challenges that the Palm Island Jumeirah project faces between 200 when it\started and 2008 when it was completed, mostly stemmed from several factors that can be traced to divergent norms  and values, status hierarchies and communication barriers, to mention the major ones.

            2.3.2    The World’s Tallest Building – the Burj Khalifa

            The Burj Khalifa project won the Best Project of the Year at the 2010 Middle East Architect Awards (Crowcroft, 2010) and while it has been prominently in global news as being the world’s tallest building in the world and sharing a spotlight with Tom Cruise in the 4th instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise, the project has had its share of labor problems.  As a backgrounder, the construction project exemplified what a multicultural project is.  The property is owned by a local property development firm with global reach - Emaar Properties, which awarded the design work to a US firm - Skidmore, Owings and Merrill – the same design firm behind the Sears Tower in Chicago and the new One World Trade Center in New York, the London-based multinational engineering consultants, and Hyder Consulting as supervising engineers along with the NORR Group Consultants International LTD.  The engineering design employed a modern structural innovation invented by a Bangladeshi, Fazlure Rahman Khan.  Meanwhile the South Korean company Samsung Engineering & Construction which also built the Petronas Twin Towers and Taipei 101 was chosen to construct the tower in a joint venture with Belgian company BERSIX and a local firm Arabtec, employing workers primarily from South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh).  The US-based Tuner Construction Co was chosen as the project manager.   

2.4       Problems Encountered with Multicultural Project Management

            In most post-project assessments, communication is often among the areas that could have better served a smoother project implementation if not precluded its failure, in part or in whole (Cornelius & Associates, n.d.). A breakdown in communication can cause problems in any project management effort and this gets even more complicated in a multicultural project. This can occur at various levels or hierarchies in a project team can include any or a combination of the following:
·         The Construction , Engineering and Infrastructure Management or CEIM (2010) reported that a condominium project in Ho Chi Minh employing contractual workers and engineering experts from a few countries  suffered interpersonal and intra-group communication problems which included a failure to generate or encourage information flow in a face-to-face meetings between team members as well as inter-group communication problems where interactions between the team and suppliers, contractors, principals, and other stakeholders occur very frequently at any point or time during the project duration. 
·         The same construction project experienced a fundamental failure to identify and assess the project stakeholders and their specific information needs, suitable channels of information flow (online chats, emails, paper submissions, etc.) and frequency or interaction between the project team and stakeholders.  This could have been addressed of at the very start of a project engagement and a project charter identifying a matrix of reporting methods, recipients and reporting accountabilities will help in addressing this problem.
·         Several other communication problems were experienced such as the use of abusive language, wrong timing of information flow such as delayed status updates and assessment of team member performance, and failure to understand the needs and concerns of team members often occasioned by a failure to listen attentively to what members are saying or take them seriously. 

            2.4.1    Communication Barriers

            Communication can be difficult enough when team members speak the same language in a homogenous cultural setting (Behfar, Kern & Brett, 2006) .  Finding the right words and phrasing nuances to motivate workers can be challenging but this is nothing compared to a team with dozens of different languages in a heterogeneous multicultural setting with only a few speaking  more than one that can be understood by most, such as English. Table 2 shows the number of nationalities involved with Jumeirah project (Orrill 2012) and the end result is a multi-cultural project innately challenged by natural communication barriers. Orrill (2012) has enumerated several problems in the Jumeirah related to cultural diversity but communication constituted a major part the often derailed efforts to achieve teamwork, cooperation and collaboration among various nationals working in the project.  This often led to delayed deliverables and conflicts that almost led to violence between certain ethnic groups.
Table 2: Multicultural content of a major construction project
Hierarchical Level
Typical Project Function
UAE Nationals        
Property Owner / Developer
GCC Nationals
Upper Management
Certain Arabs     
Upper Management
Management  (CM)
Management  (CM)
Management (CM)
Other  Arabs           
Management (CM/GC)
Management (CM/GC)
Management  (CM)
Labourers (some Chinese GCs)
Sub Saharan African 

            Communication is not just about being able to send a message through the facility of spoken or written communication, no matter how comprehensively or eloquently done.  It is also the ability to listen, understand and digest meanings from what others are saying. David Nunan (1997) describes listening as having fundamental importance in the communication process.  Gillian Brown (1990) calls it oracy, or the ability to both listen and speak the language as being fundamental to communicative competence and literacy.  The next level is the ability to read and write in the language and this ability completes the communicative literacy when learning ESL (English as a Second Language).
            In another level, communicative incompetence can be seen when there are discrepancies in phrasing minutes of a meeting with what actually transpired during the meeting.  This can be merely a clerical error to proofread and is truly a failure to understand and document the proceedings of a meeting.  Phrasing inaccuracies of meeting minutes communicate different messages to different parties.  Even if the language is perfectly clear, it is the various meanings and concepts that lie behind the actual words that can become an issue of misinterpretation. 

            2.4.2    Status Hierarchies

           A characteristic of projects in the UAE that is endemic to the UAE society despite having a high tolerance level of multi-ethnicity is that workers are ranked according to status hierarchies or their worth to a project management organization.  In the West, this would be the equivalent of cultural stereotypes and biases.  It was not only obvious in the Jumeirah project (Orrill 2010), but is evident in the wider UAE societies, though noticeably fading over time. Even the caste system ingrained in the culture of Indians became evident as biases emerged to give problems in the organization of the team that would not have occurred if this particular ethnic group were not employed.

2.5       Job Specifications in implementing projects in the UAE

            A random sampling of a few online job placement ads for a project management position in a number of first rate companies in the UAE shows that among the qualifications in technical and managerial skills, there is a consistent requirement for communication skills.  This clearly points to the need for communication competence as integral to project management positions in the country (Buehring, 2009). Table 3 shows four sampled online job placement ads with communications skills among the requirements for project management positions.
Table 3: Samples of job skill requirements for positions in project management excerpted from various online sources advertising for vacant job positions targeting the UAE job markets.

1.      Product Manager, IP, from a recruitment agency for an unnamed Telecoms company

·         Minimum of 5 years Product Management experience in Telecommunications and or IT environment specializing on IP related products.
·         Product management skills product knowledge, development of products, product pricing and the establishment of products in the market.
·         Process and business skills demonstrate deep understanding of the operational process implication of existing mobile communication products and services and the enhancement thereof throughout the company.
·         Customer focus skills are dedicated to meet the expectations and requirements of internal and external customers. Get first-hand customer information and uses it for improvement of products. Acts with customers in mind.
·         Reporting skills writing of letters, preparing monthly and other reports, preparing presentations serving as decision support.
·         Interpersonal skills relates well to all kinds of people. Uses diplomacy and act tact. Can diffuse even high-tension situations comfortably.
·         Communication skills with the ability able to communicate clearly. Can get messages across that have the desired effect. Can convince people. Written communication skills is able to write clearly in a number of different communication settings and styles. Can get messages across that have the desired effect.
·         Expertise in developing and assessing business plans and monitoring actual data. Expertise in Project Management.
·         Analytical skills ability to assess data and make conclusions. University Degree or equivalent qualification in Business Administration, Marketing, or Telecom Engineering.

2.      Project Director – LTE Network Design  TAAHEED Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

·         The Project Director shall have a degree in Electrical or Electronics Engineering from a university or equivalent qualification, a master's degree or higher is desired.
·         The Project Director shall possess an excellent command of the English language. Knowledge of the Arabic language would be an advantage.
·         The Project Director shall have at least 15 years previous experience in planning, design and project management of large telecommunication projects, and at least 5 years in a responsible position managing large departments. In particular reference shall be made to design of state-of-the-art Fixed and Mobile networks.

3.       Project Manager, for an unnamed international telecoms company providing a complete rang e of wire and cable products,
Skills and Specifications
·         University degree or college diploma in the field telecommunications and /or Data communications.
·         5 years direct work experience in a project management capacity, including all aspects of process development and execution.
·         Certifications in Project Management Familiarity with project management software, such as MS Project.
·         Knowledge of the Telcordia Network Engineer ESRI GIS Technology system as deployed within Etisalat.
·         Knowledge of current Network technologies and Topologies.
·         Knowledge of ISP and OSP Installation Methodologies
·         Competent with various software programs, such as MS Office and AutoCAD
·         Can conform to shifting priorities, demands and timelines through analytical and problem-solving capabilities.
·         Ability to read communication styles of team members and contractors who come from a broad spectrum of disciplines.
·         Ability to elicit cooperation from a wide variety of sources, including upper management, clients, and other departments.
·         Ability to defuse tension among project team, should it arise. Strong written and oral communication skills. Strong interpersonal skills.
·         Adept at conducting research into project-related issues and products.
·         Customer service skills an asset. Ability to effectively prioritize and execute tasks in a high-pressure environment is crucial.
·         Work Conditions:  Overtime may be required in meet project deadlines.
·         Sitting for extended periods of time.
·         Dexterity of hands and fingers to operate a computer keyboard, mouse, and other devices and objects.
·         Physically able to participate in training sessions, presentations, and meetings.

Etisalat is the Middle East’s largest operator and the GCC’s third largest corporation. With a market value of approximately Dhs. 80 billion (USD 20 billion) and annual revenues of over Dhs. 32 billion (USD 8.7 billion) Etisalat is today on the verge of being numbered amongst the top ten operators in the world
Desired Skills & Experience
·         Experience in Cloud product management, product development and commercialization.
·         Experience in managing Cloud products including IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and CaaS across multiple territories
·         Experience in setting and executing Cloud strategies
·         Strong  management,  planning and organizational skills
·         Strong analytical and problem solving skills
·         Strong knowledge of Cloud services ecosystem and overall Digital services portfolio
·         Sets high personal standards and is goal oriented
·         Excellent communications skills, both orally and in writing


2.6       Project management and communicative competence

            Project management in any organisation rests at two levels - the macro and the micro levels. Modesto and Tichapondwa (2010) pointed out that on the broader macro level, project management ensures that what is undertaken, small or major, is achieved or delivered on time, within budget and complying with specified standards. On the detailed micro level, project management is all about encouraging and nurturing teamwork and participative collaboration in the workplace, ensuring deadlines and budgets are met; reducing cost, managing risks, and ensuring that important documents and information is shared among members of the team.  The micro level activities are not as difficult to attain if every member of the team has a common understanding of what needs to be done, where they are headed, and how to get there.  This is made possible with communicative competence that ensures a steady stream of information exchange understood by everyone on the team.
            A project can be defined as a multidisciplinary initiative to bring about change (Baume et al, 2002).  The change can be as simple as initiating a procedure alteration in the way certain aspects of an organization does its work and confined to just an office or department, or it can be as monumental as building the world’s tallest skyscraper or longest bridge spanning cities and municipalities. Achieving the change requires meeting a set of specific objectives, within a timescale and an allocated set of resources, and in a given context (community, government, business, etc.).  Baume et al (2002) list the attributes of a best of breed project management practice as having the following:
1.      a clear purpose that can be achieved in a limited time;
2.      a clear end when the outcome has been achieved;
3.      resources to achieve specific outcomes;
4.      a sponsor who expects on-time delivery of outcomes and within budgets,; and  
            All the attributes require that the relevant ideas and information are clearly communicated and understood by stakeholders in the project especially in the areas of decision making, collaborating and understanding the overall task sequences, especially in complex projects (Senescu, Aranda-Mena & Haymaker, 2011).  Haughey (2009) defined a stakeholder as anyone or group that has an interest in the project or will be impacted by its deliverables or outcomes.  It is important to assess and understand the values that stakeholders have in order to address them properly throughout the project duration. These project stakeholders are the project sponsors, higher management, project team members, 3rd parties involved with supplying and supporting the project and the people, organizations or communities that will be affected by its implementation.  The latter could be indigenous tribes or old historic structures that may be displaced by the project.
            Among the various skills that a project managers needs to have, such as organizational, time and resource management, and the relevant technical skills, competence in communication is considered the most fundamental and critical ingredient to the success of a project (Buehring, 2009).  Kerzner (2001) defines communication as the sending and receiving of messages that includes verbal and written messages, how the message is expressed and understood, and the timely exchange of the right information.  As Row (2010) pointed out, the main advantages of communication is that it greatly reduces misunderstanding among project stakeholders and team members while fostering teamwork and a healthy social and interactive relationship between them.  Sharing knowledge and fostering awareness of what needs to be done and what is expected of each team members through regular and open channels of communication  can lead to a more productive involvement that can spell the difference between failure and success of the project (Buehring, 2009).  This cannot be served without effective communication skills on the part of project management leaders. In fact, just about every aspect of project management cannot be done successfully without sufficient communication on the part of project manager and the team members (Buehring, 2009).  Every activity undertaken in project management is driven with communication competence, whether verbal or written, from start to finish. Communication becomes not only crucial to a project but is considered the lifeblood of any project undertaking, especially one where there is the potential for misunderstanding which is often the cause of failure in a project (Awati, 2008). 
            But it gets more acutely demanding in a multicultural setting occasioned by the globalization perspectives of today’s business (Ochieng & Price, 2009). Jehn et al (1999) showed how the communication needs get a proportionate diversity in terms of perspectives, insights, and values when dealing with various cultures in a project.   Ochieng & Price (2009) established in their studies of projects in the UK and Kenya that effective cross cultural communication becomes acutely critical as an enabler in a global context where project tasks are undertaken by a workforce with several linguistic and cultural differences. Having the right communication skills to manage cultural differences and potential cross-cultural conflicts as seen in the Jumeirah project is really all about people management (Dainty et al, 2007) with cultural issues as the focus.

            2.6.1    Intercultural or cross-cultural communication

            Behaviour arising from the influence of culture is basically what defines the differences among team members coming from different lands and poses a potential for disrupting what would otherwise be a smooth project implementation unless properly managed.  The level of communication that takes place in a multicultural setting is termed variously as intercultural or cross-cultural communication (Bennett, 1998; ComGAP, 2011).   It takes place when persons influenced by differing cultural backgrounds negotiate through shared experiences or situation in an interactive setting such as what would be obtained in a project.       One way to define it is to contrast it with monocultural communication where message is sent based on similarities such as a common language and shared values and where such similarities enable people to practice or anticipate responses to certain messages as well as take for granted certain messages based on shared or common assumptions (Bennett, 1998).  In cross-cultural commination, these assumption based on similarities rarely exist and there are more messages which cannot be taken for granted.  By definition, different cultures have different languages, behavioral motivations and manifestations, as well as biases and values. For this reason, communicative approaches to in a cross-cultural setting need to assume a wider perspective encourage the acceptance of difference.

            2.6.2    Where Communication is needed in Project Management

            After having asserted that project management cannot do without communication skills, the following is an explicit breakdown of the major areas or tasks where communication strategies are necessary (Kerzner, 2011 and Ochieng et al, 2009) in any project management undertaking, whether monocultural or multicultural in composition.
·         Initial Project Planning
            Documenting the project charter containing its rationale, manpower and resource requirements, duration and other details needed to operationalize a project is basic to initiating a project for which management approvals are secured prior to starting a project.  This is both a written and oral communication exercise that often spells the difference between approval the project or not.
·         Project objective setting and managing expectations
            Eective project communication needs to establish from the start what the team members can expect in terms of having clearly delineated lines of authority, accountability, responsibility, problem and conflict resolution channels, deliverables and sanctions for failures.
·         Project Team Development
            The need for a project team to work as one like a sports team cannot be overstated and communication is paramount in enabling the Project Manager to foster this which gets more demanding with multi-ethnic groups in the team.  Smith & Imbrie (2005) point to team development and understanding the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in a group as critical in any project management.  Performance assessment of individual team members requires tactful communication skill and even a level of psychological skill to manage potentially damaging self-esteem and expectations.   In addition, the use online collaboration tools that harness each team member’s skills to improve on shared documents is an added dimension to the team spirit and will require a common language to achieve.
·         Project Status Updates
           Performance updates to higher management as well as getting status updates from the project team members comprise the routine tasks expected in monitoring the progress of any project undertaking. Several techniques can be used for the purpose such as end of day, weekly and monthly  performance reviews,  actual versus planned accomplishments using PERT/CPM, variance analysis in actual vs. budget reporting, change requests, risk analysis and problem solving, dispute resolution reports, and trend analysis.  All these require significant verbal and written communication skills.
·         Failure Reporting
            Considered part of project status updates, major failures and problems that adversely affect the progress of the project or require greater resource allocation as a result needs to be communicated to the project stakeholders and higher management. This requires some diplomatic tact as well negotiation skill in the communication process to secure approval or buy-in from higher management. Situations such as this have political implication where vest interested from various stakeholders will wants to extract the most value out of their involvement in the project (Awati, 2008).
·         Conflict Management
            In any aggrupation of people, whether in social, political or business circles, conflicts are bound to develop between certain individuals or between groups.  Differing opinions, values and beliefs among locals in a team can already trigger conflicts and this achieves a heightened dimension between multi-racial folks mixed in a group. Resolving disputes among the ranks is a major task of business managers and it gets more complicated when project managers deal with multicultural elements within his or her project team. Again, the issue of politics enter the picture and proper communication that can weather the storms arising from internal conflicts as well as those occasion with external parties such as suppliers and support corporate departments will be needed (Awati, 2008).
·         Collaborative Project Engagement
            Increasing project complexity such as those in telecommunications, infrastructure, and construction project tend to further complicate the need for communication, most especially in multicultural projects.  This complexity fuels a heightened demand for the use of technology solutions in riding through the communication effort (Senescu et al, 2011).  There are now several collaborative online tools that allow project team members to post or upload project-related documents to a site for purposes of being shared to other team members and enable collaborative updating that benefits all team members. Collaboration will require a common ability to input changes to documents which require understanding and crafting the right use of language used in the documents so that they can be read and understood by team members.


2.7       The Challenge in Cross-Cultural Communication

            Several project management challenges that benefit from effective communication have been shown to confront project managers regardless of cultural heterogeneity (Behfar et al, 2006).  These include, adhering to project objectives, work rules, acceptable project team relationships and behavior, as well as the style of message delivery.  However, Behfar et al (2005) indicated that culturally diverse teams create complexities in terms of culture-bound perspectives, perceptions of what is respectable behavior and level of fairness among team members, gender valuation especially with regards women, religious practices and language fluencies.

            2.7.1    Understanding Non-Verbal Cues

            While the structural components of language are important, the social aspects of communication are even more critical.  This involves understanding the expressions that affect the social dimension of communication or what is termed as non-verbal cues that have meaning outside of their literal abstract representations in literal language (Lewis, 2006).  Cassel, Nakano, Bickmore, Sidner and Rich (2007) indicated that nearly three-quarters of descriptive discourses come with non-verbal gestures.  Vintean (2007) pointed out that the skill of understanding non-verbal communication is often about understanding the feeling of people, their attitudes, prejudices and beliefs which comprise much of the underlying meanings behind deal-making, negotiations and diplomatic entanglements. This becomes more heightened when dealing with people from disparate cultures. 

            2.7.2    Developing ethnorelativity or Intercultural sensitivity

            Being ethnocentric has no place in a multicultural project management. It means being comfortable working within the confines of the culture one has been born and raised (Bennett, 1998).  On the other hand, as Bennett (1998) define it, being ethnorelative means having the intercultural sensitivity to adapt to one’s judgements and actions to various interpersonal settings where different people from different backgrounds congregate and must share a common objective.  Being able to recognize and accept this variability in culture-based behavior is the first step in adapting to the reality and create the seeds of ethnorelativity vital in managing multicultural projects.

            2.7.3    Enhancing second language capability

            As of  2006, the Commonwealth Nations Research Society (CNRS, 2008) reported on its website that there were about 375 million native English speakers (US, UK, Canada Australia and New Zealand), and a total of over 1.5 billion native and non-native English speakers worldwide. Can the UAE educational system go wrong teaching English as a second language (ESL) to its Emirati citizens?  Given the data on foreign contractual workers and migrants provided in Figures 2 and 3, teaching ESL could provide strategic advantage to Emirati citizens and further bring the country to greater global attractiveness. 
Table 4: Countries with English as a stated official language or widely spoken (Sources CNRS, 2008)
Arab Country
Asian Country
African Countries

Arabic, English, Farsi, Urdu

Bangla (official), English


Mandarin 70%, English 23%, Wu (Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan, Hakka, Zhuang (Thai), Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur (Turkic), Hmong, Korean

East Timor

Tetum, Portuguese (official); Bahasa Indonesia, English; other indigenous languages, including Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak

Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes

Amharic, Tigrigna, Orominga, Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, English, over 70 others

English (official), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous

English (official), African languages (including Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe, and Ga)


Hindi 30%, English 31%, Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Kannada, Assamese, Sanskrit, Sindhi (all official); Hindi/Urdu; 1,600+ dialects


Bahasa Indonesia (official), English, Dutch, Javanese, and more than 580 other languages and dialects

Arabic (official), English
Korea, South

Korean, English widely taught

Arabic (official), English

Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian

English 20% (official), some 20 ethnic-group languages

Bahasa Melayu (Malay, official), English, Chinese dialects (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai; several indigenous languages (including Iban, Kadazan) in East Malaysia

English 7% (official), Afrikaans is common language of most of the population and of about 60% of the white population, German 32%; indigenous languages: Oshivambo, Herero, Nama


Nauruan (official), English


Nepali 48% (official), Maithali 12%, Bhojpuri 7%, Tharu 6%, Tamang 5%, others. English spoken by many in government and business (2001)

English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Fulani, and more than 200 others

Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu, Indian dialects

Urdu 8%, English (both official); Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Siraiki (a Punjabi variant) 10%, Pashtu 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, Burushaski, and others 8%

Filipino (based on Tagalog), English (both official); eight major dialects: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense

Arabic (official); English a common second language

Kinyarwanda, French, and English (all official); Kiswahili in commercial centers
Sri Lanka

Sinhala 74% (official and national), Tamil 18% (national), other 8%; English is commonly used in government and spoken competently by about 10%

Thai (Siamese), English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects

English (official), Ganda or Luganda, other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, Arabic
United Arab Emirates

Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu

Vietnamese (official); English (increasingly favored as a second language); some French, Chinese, Khmer; mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)

English (official); major vernaculars: Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, Tonga; about 70 other indigenous languages

English (official), Shona, Ndebele (Sindebele), numerous minor tribal dialects
            Table 4 shows several countries in the Arab world along with several Asian and African nations, many of which have workers that comprise the migrant worker demographics of the UAE, have adopted English as stated or implicit official language status or at least widely understood and spoken. Almost all the Arab countries have a high level of English literacy, along with India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh and most African countries which show a high level of ESL proficiency.  The UAE can benefit from teaching ESL to its citizens, which is already being actively pursued.  Recent official acts of the Ministry of Education along with the Abu-Dhabi Educational Council have placed greater emphasis on ESL starting in grade schools with the introduction of technology to promote learning in all schools in the emirates (Ismail et al, 2012).  Hence, this is a clear indication that it makes sense for companies operating in the UAE to have their staff trained in ESL or further develop those who already use ESL to a lesser or greater degree in their work.

2.8       Advantages and benefits of a Multicultural Project team

            Not all are problems when talking about multicultural projects.  The same attributes of cultural diversity that potentially could spawn communication barriers also provide significant advantage to a project.  Maznevski (1994) and McLeod & Lobel (1992) pointed out that cultural diversity offers entirely different perspectives and skill sets that can generate more high quality ideas in a brainstorming session to resolve project issues that would not emerge in a mono-cultural setting.  Jackson et al (1992) confirms this by showing that multicultural teams are often more productive than homogenous teams when identifying problems and generating solutions.  But from both ends of the picture, communication remains a vital tool or avenue to smoothen relationships on one end and serving as the conduit to get those ideas understood and implemented.

2.9       Summary

            The literature review highlighted the significant exposure of the UAE to a culturally diverse society where majority of its residents have settled in the country from various other nations within the Middle East and Asian continents, apart from the migrant workers that have been attracted to the country’s various job opportunities in various infrastructure projects.  Given this multicultural diversity that not only permeate UAE society but is also present in the infrastructure and business projects in the public and private sectors of the nations, there is a clear impetus for UAE project managers to exercise significant communicative competence in managing the disparate peoples comprising the various projects that businesses in the country often undertake. This communicative competence calls for a second language such as English that serves as a second language with which the disparate ethnic groups in a project team can understand the information that needs to be communicated within the group.   

             2.9.1   Conceptual Framework

            Based on the literature review discussed in the preceding sections of this chapter, a clear conceptual framework emerges which will be used to confine and delineate the subsequent primary data collection process that the study undertakes.  Figure 4 graphically represents the role of communication in successfully delivering project management expectations in the context of UAE’s multi-ethnic society that has likewise defined the work environment that project managers deal with.  After completing this secondary data collection process in creating the conceptual framework of the study, the subsequent sections detail the primary data collection meant to further explore the value of communication in a multicultural project management setting in the UAE.


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