Skip to Main Content
This study sheds light on how project managers can use language as a resource for communicating with local communities and stakeholders alike, and protect the legitimacy of their decisions and actions. The verbal accounts produced by a senior project management team are examined in-depth. The accounts address the claims raised by residents affected by the expansion of the Heathrow airport. The context for the talk-in-interaction is one of conflicting interests: the promoter undertakes actions to mitigate the impacts of the construction works, but some residents feel frustrated that the business can grow at the expenses of their welfare. The findings reveal that managers tend to acknowledge all claims even when perceiving they lack legitimacy. The analysis of the words and phrasing in the conversational turns that form the accounts reveals three tones - caring, assertive, and apologetic - that managers use intentionally to frame linguistically the acknowledgements. The study discusses how the tones fit with the extent to which, first, managers consider that the claims are factually correct, fair, and precise as opposed to unfair, exaggerated, or opportunistic; and second, managers find technical or institutional references available for constructing the accounts. It also discusses the effects of congruence - or the lack of it - between what managers mean to say about what the project team will do, what managers actually say, how listeners interpret what was said, and what the project team actually gets done.