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Assess Methods of Communication

Every time information is exchanged, whether through a quick cubicle drop-in or a formal written announcement, communication has occurred. Table 7-2 summarizes the major attributes of communication. From these factors, you can predict the advantages and drawbacks of each communication method and choose the one best suited to each situation.

Table 7-2 Communication Factors and Communication Tools

Communication Factors


Direction (flow)

Push, pull, interactive


Synchronous, asynchronous


Verbal, nonverbal, written


Formal/official, informal/unofficial


Internal, external, general, restricted

Communication Tools



How information is packaged: as a written report, slide presentation, phone call, text message, oral conversation, email, press release, or memo


Where information is transmitted: through video conferencing software, social media, telephone, project dashboards, fact-to-face meetings, or chat applications

In its most basic form, communication is the flow of information (message) from a source (communicator) to an audience (receiver). The message is encoded in a communication medium, travels via a channel, and is transmitted during a communication session. The information in the message can include ideas, instructions, or emotions. The flow can travel in three directions:

  • Push communication: The communicator sends (pushes) a communication to an audience. In-app notifications, press releases, and sent emails are push communication.

  • Pull communication: The audience seeks out (pulls) a communication from a source provided by the communicator. Websites, project dashboards, and retrieved emails are pull communication.

  • Interactive communication: Communication flows back and forth between two or more people at the same time (bidirectional or simultaneous). Participants take turns being communicator and audience. Live meetings, instant messenger chats, and phone calls are interactive communication.

Push and pull indicate how communication is transmitted and received, not the medium being used. Sending a written report through email is push communication, while posting the same report to an intranet for stakeholders to download is pull communication.

Noise is any factor (not just sound) that interferes with communication, such as bad acoustics, participants cross-talking over a speaker, distractions, electronic interference, and poor video quality.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

Synchronous communication means that participants receive and exchange information in a communication session in real time. Interactive communication is synchronous, with all parties continually listening and responding to each other (as with face-to-face communication). Asynchronous communication has a delay, meaning the communicator and the audience enter the communication session at separate times. Push and pull communications are both asynchronous.

Synchronous communication allows rapid feedback; communicators can tailor their message on the fly to meet the audience’s needs. For example, a listener might ask the speaker to repeat an unclear phrase or define a term. When handled well, synchronous communication creates a continual improvement loop. If not well facilitated, it can create noise and obscure information with confusing cross-talk or distracting chatter.

Synchronous communication is the quickest way to exchange ideas, making it the choice for urgent issues and emergencies, conflict resolution, and brainstorming. It supports more nuanced discussions than does asynchronous communication. Most communication in an Agile project should be synchronous. On the downside, it needs all parties to be free to communicate at the same time and requires additional technology (such as cameras or mobile devices) to overcome geographic distance.

The strength of asynchronous exchange is that it can be accessed when convenient to the audience and revisited on demand. Audience size does not degrade message clarity, and the recipients can be anywhere in the globe. It also provides a built-in record of the communication. However, it limits the audience’s ability to respond, provides no feedback to the communicator, and slows knowledge transfer. Asynchronous messages can sound the alert in an emergency but will not help resolve it.

Written, Verbal, and Nonverbal Communication

Written communication is anything text-based, including voice dictation, emails, chats, reports, press releases, and handwritten notes. It produces a record and is integral to project management. All official project communication must be written. Written text is the most formal and precise communication, but it is weaker at conveying emotional content. While written facts are not likely to be misinterpreted, written tone is, and a badly phrased or hastily written email cannot be recalled once sent.

Verbal or oral communication includes phone calls, live speech, sign language, and meetings. It is the fastest and most unconstrained way for team members to interact, build relationships, and share tacit knowledge. Because verbal communication is ephemeral, it should be logged or documented in a written follow-up to be saved in the communication archive when it covers significant project issues.

All verbal communication is accompanied by nonverbal communication: body posture, tone of voice, speaking volume, and gestures that all augment (or directly contradict) the words being spoken. Project managers need to be able to read nonverbal cues to effectively manage conflict and understand the emotions that drive interactions among team members or stakeholders.

Formal and Informal Communication

Formal communication is frequently based on a predefined template or standard adapted to a specific need. It is used for any official communication that represents the project or the organization, including press releases, reports, project kickoff meeting briefings, company memos, and internal policies. Formal communication is powerful in that it channels decision-making for the project, but inflexible in that it cannot deviate from its purpose or format and remain effective.

Informal communication includes all unstructured information flows: written, verbal, or nonverbal. Casual emails, text messages, hallway discussions and ad hoc discussions, nods and waves, smiles, scowls, and gestures continually outpace formal communication. Because it requires no preparation or effort, informal communication is the easiest way to convey critical project knowledge or train team members. Whereas formal communication is used to create project documentation, informal communication drives the decisions made before they enter formal channels. Agile methodologies rely more heavily on informal communication than do predictive projects. Note that many modes, like email, can be formal or informal, depending on the message’s content.

External and Internal Communication

Internal communication takes place within the project, team, program, organization, or group of stakeholders, whereas external communication travels outside the organization to customers, vendors, or the general public. Like formal communication, external communication will usually follow a specific format or template and require authorization to release, such as a blog post or ad campaign.

Internal communication can also be categorized by hierarchy. Vertical communication travels up or down the organizational chart (for example, from project manager to board member or from product owner to team member). Horizontal communication occurs between peers with the same level of authority.

Sensitivity and criticality rules govern how information should be shared both internally and externally. General communication can be distributed to any audience, while restricted communication (such as a statement of work) may require that the external recipient sign a non-disclosure agreement. Project managers should also provide a way for team members to communicate internally and privately about issues like personal conflict.

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