Have you ever received an email or IM from someone that started with “No, I…”? What did you hear when you read this? Was it positive? Did you think the person typing the message was being friendly or encouraging? In all likelihood after receiving that message you probably felt as if someone has scolded you simply because of the way the message began. The fact that you couldn’t the tone of the message can change the delivery 100%. Dr. Stolovitch (Laureate Education, Inc.) clearly stated that “communication is not just words.” I have given the advice more than once to colleagues who were frustrated with a written communication that they shouldn’t read tone into an email or text. It is always best to speak with the person face to face before interpreting a written message with a certain tone.
I just completed an activity where the same message was given in three different mediums – first by email, second by voicemail and then finally face-to-face. In the message Jane is asking Mark for a report she needs in order to complete her own work and have it in on time. When I read the email from Jane it came across as being annoyed or frustrated with Mark and the situation. She starts by saying that she knows he is busy and she ends with saying she appreciates his help, but the message between these two things makes it seem as though these sentiments are simply her way of trying to get what she wants. The voicemail didn’t seem much different to me. Jane sounded annoyed and somewhat demanding and put off that her own work could be late because she is waiting on Mark. In fact, what she said in the voicemail was exactly the tone I read from the email. The finally message was face-to-face and the body language, facial expressions and tone used helped the message to come across as more of a friendly reminder than of an annoyed colleague. It was a completely different message in my observation.
I think the take away from this activity is that when things are due and there is something that needs to get done or an important message that needs to be communicated it is best to do it in person when necessary. However, sometimes it is not possible and when messages must be conveyed from a distance it is best by phone using an appropriate tone or if absolutely necessary through a written message avoiding the use of certain phrases or words that may come across as negative and demanding like the first example I gave. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) tell us that “whatever form communications take…project managers should plan and prepare so their messages are received and correctly interpreted” (p. 367). Communication is key to a successful project and how the communication is delivered can make all the difference as to whether it is effective or destructive.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Communicating with Stakeholders. (Media Resources). Boston, MA: Stolovitch.
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.