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Before looking at the process of planning communication for the PMP Certification Exam, it’s important to know some basic communication concepts to not only lay the groundwork for communication planning, but also make sure that you know this information for the exam.

Formal and informal, written and verbal

Communication occurs throughout a project in all kinds of ways. Much communication is informal, including hallway conversations, cubicle conversations, and networking. These are all examples of informal verbal communication.

Formal verbal communication occurs with presentations or briefings to the steering committee, customer, or sponsor. Your kick-off meeting and team status meetings are additional examples of formal verbal communication.

However, verbal communication isn’t the only way people communicate. A lot of communication on a project is written. This can be formal, such as contracts, status reports, defect lists, project plans, and project documents. Written communication can also be informal, such as a brief note to a team member, an inquiry via e-mail, or a follow-up reminder that something is due soon.

Formal Informal
Verbal Presentations
Project reviews
Ad hoc discussions
Written Progress reports
Project charter
Project management plan
Project documents
Instant messaging

These methods of communicating will be affected by whether you’re communicating vertically through the organization with sponsors or subordinates, or horizontally with your peers. You should also consider whether the communication is internal or external and whether it is official (that is, the company’s position on an issue) or unofficial (communication not sanctioned or approved by the organization). All these variables affect the means and methods you use to communicate.

Words, tone, and body language

Most people think the most important aspect of communication is what you say. Surprisingly, more information is conveyed by how you say it. And even more is conveyed by your nonverbal communication.

To demonstrate the concept: John sees Morgan in the hall and happily tells her that he expanded his client’s current engagement another six months. Morgan replies enthusiastically, “Way to go!” She gives him a smile and a pat on the back.

Turning the corner, John runs into Stephan, who’s having a lot of trouble with his client. John shares the news with Stephan, who replies, “Way to go,” rolls his eyes, and throws his hands in the air. Undeterred, John bounds up the stairs and sees Leonard hurrying down the stairs to a meeting. John tells him the news as Leonard hurries by. Leonard calls over his shoulder, “Way to go.”

In this scenario, John communicated the same message the same way each time. Each person he interacted with replied, “Way to go.” However, each communicated something different. Morgan seemed genuinely excited. Stephan was dejected and self-focused. Leonard merely acknowledged that John had spoken.

If you’re talking on the phone or meeting virtually on the web, you don’t have the benefit of nonverbal cues, such as a smile, or rolling eyes. Therefore, you could miss part of the communicator’s intent. Communication can erode further when you send e-mail, text someone, or leave a note. When you have only words, you lack both nonverbal messages and important verbal cues.

Think about how verbal and nonverbal communication will influence your communication planning. Use e-mail for routine simple communications, and insist on face-to-face meetings for problem solving and conversations about complex or complicated topics.

You may see para language on the exam to refer to vocal quality, loudness, tempo, facial expressions, and gestures. Occasionally, para lingual is used although the term is not in the dictionary.

Communication skills

Here is a simple list of some of the interpersonal communication skills you will need to manage projects effectively.

  • When someone else is speaking:

    • Give her your full attention.

    • Reflect on what the person is saying.

    • Be open-minded.

    • Listen without thinking about how you will respond.

    • Ask questions for clarification.

    • Don’t judge the other person.

    • Summarize what you heard and check for understanding.

  • When you are speaking:

    • Speak clearly.

    • Make eye contact.

    • Check for body language that indicates whether your audience understands.

    • Find various ways to explain complex concepts.

    • Be concise; don’t ramble.

    • Check for clarification.

    • Accept feedback.

    • Try to understand your audience’s perspective.

The PMP exam assumes that you’re managing a fairly large project with multiple stakeholders. For questions that deal with communication assume that you have 100 or more stakeholders.

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