Project Management

Total Message Impact: Body Language and Communications in Project Management

PMI Silver Spring Chapter

Byron has over 31 years of experience in IT project and program management. He is a retired Air Force Major with an MBA, PgMP, PMP, CISSP, ITIL-F and CompTIA Project+. He is the Senior Director of IT for Intrepid Solutions and the author of IT Project Management: A Geek's Guide to Leadership (Best Practices and Advances in Program Management).

In 1967, Albert Mehrabian’s experiments led to a formula for what is considered the total impact of a message: 7% words, 38% vocal tone and 55% facial expression. This inspired the popular notion that 93% of communications is nonverbal.

This emphasis on nonverbal communication influences the world of project management. The Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification candidates may even find a question or two on the exam concerning this formula.

But how useful is this formula in practice? Let’s consider the following business fable, where a project manager faces a communications and stakeholder engagement challenge:

Stuart stared blankly of the window, watching the North Dakota snow fall, futilely taking deep breaths to calm himself. “Why am I here?” he thought. Dr. Robert’s current meeting was running 20 minutes over. She was known around the company as “The Wicked Witch from the South,” and Stuart was about to find out why. “Paul should be here, not me,” thought Stuart. “She hates me.”

Stuart was a project manager for Northern Shale, a North Dakota mining company that what was a subsidiary of Fulcrum Industries. Paul was the program manager, and Stuart’s boss. Dr. Roberts had used “Reply All” to criticize Stuart’s draft …


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