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Basic Principles of Communication

written by: Rupen Sharma, PMP • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 8/5/2013

Communications management is one of the most critical processes while managing a project. In project management communications, you need to ensure all stakeholders are kept informed. Let’s explore some basic principles of project management communication and sources of miscommunication.

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    A Firm Requirement

    Some project manager job postings specify PMP certification preferred, while others ask for years and years of project management experience in a certain domain. There is, however, one common requirement shared by all such jobs, and it will say must possess excellent project management communication skills!

    This is why you should be an expert in the basic principles of communication. Otherwise, you will need to manage the risk of miscommunication caused during project communications management.

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    Basic Principles of Communication

    In communication management, communication is essentially between stakeholders, both internal and external. The medium of communication can be either written or verbal. Each medium has its benefits and uses. While communicating your project network diagram, you would walk stakeholders though the critical path while the stakeholders view the diagram. Imagine communicating the critcial path, without showing the project network would be a nightmare for you and the stakeholders!

    Let's first understand the basic principles of communication:

    In any type of communication, there is a sender and a recipient. The sender sends information while the recipient decodes the received information and responds according to how the information is comprehended.

    There is nothing more in communication, yet many projects suffer tremendous turbulence from misunderstandings caused by communication. Let’s explore some sources of these problems.

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    Sources of Errors

    To avoid misunderstanding, adhere to the following basic principles of communication:

    • Know What You Want: When entering a conversation or while communicating in writing, you should be very clear on the purpose and objective of the communication. Always state the purpose and objective before getting into the details.
    • Audience: Another basic principle and a source of miscommunication is when you use language that is just not suitable for the intended audience. For example, suppose you have to give the status of your project to a stakeholder who is more interested in the financials and high-level risks. In this case, don’t get into the details such as the daily technical issues the team is facing. Leave such information for people who are more suitable for it.
    • Clarity: Here is a common occurence in consulting work and it pertains to communication management: The other day I came across a hostile client who kept on insisting that the deliverables received were not as per the expectations set. Both the project manager and the client kept referring to the Statement of Work, yet both interpreted some phrases differently. When communication has room for multiple understandings, then miscommunication inevitably shows its ugly head. To reduce the chances of miscommunication, use clear and precise language. When formulating objectives or goals, use the SMART Framework.
    • Confirm and Then Reconfirm: In active listening, they say it is best to paraphrase your understanding of the information being communicated. In this way, you and the recipient understand each other. Similarly, in email communication, which has loads of room for miscommunication, you should always confirm your stance or next step. Don’t leave room for assumptions to creep in.

    By adhering to these basic principles of communication in project management, you should be able to reduce errors. Now, let's look at communication media.

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    Communication Media

    Before I end this article, it’s important to note that the type of media you use to communicate has a role to play in communication effectiveness. For example, face-to-face communication is most effective. In this form of communication, you also get to review the body language of the participants. Going by the same thought process, video conferencing is also effective. Teleconferencing is less effective. Email is the least effective when communicating. However, each project management communication medium has its uses. If you can’t get access to people real-time, email is most suitable. In addition, email is useful as a heads-up for a face-to-face meeting or teleconference and various other types of project management communication, such as documenting daily meeting notes.

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