Effective Communication and Communicative Modes: Reactions

There is little personal surprise to me that different communicative modes have inherent strengths and weakness, depending on the context in which they are used. All Language programs include standards that address interpersonal, interpretive, and expressive modes. Changes in the mode also have changes in how a person can interpret or express an idea. Lee (2008) describes it using the age old adage that “actions speak loudly” (p. 24). It is not the content that becomes the focus, rather it is the manner in which that content is delivered that becomes the root of potential problems, or as Dr. Stolovitch said, “communication is attitude” (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Body language, facial cues, and other prosodic features such as stress and tone carry a wealth of information that is lost in textual and asynchronous communication and as a result, opens messages to misinterpretation.

In the multimedia example of a single message in three different modes of communication, there are some slightly variations in how I would personally interpret the message. I do not feel that there is much ambiguity in the message, regardless of the mode in which it is presented. That said, my impressions were as follows.

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The email version of the message is the only one that, while clear and not overbearing to me, may seem so, perhaps even pushy. I would attribute this to the lack of visual and prosodic cues. As a message among two people only, I do not feel the reader would misinterpret the intent of the author. If there was such a concern, it would be better to simply send this message in person by asking directly, which brings up another mode it was presented in, face-to-face.

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The face-to-face message appears friendlier largely because there is a human presence, smiles, tones, stress, and a rhythm that are distinct and clear, conveying a generally normal request without malice.

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The voice mail is similar to this in that it presents the vocal cues and prosodic features, but it still lacks the gestures and facial cues that also present a wealth of information on the speakers intent of the message.

In the end, I would not suggest that one mode of communication is better than other, but rather only that one may be better in a specific context or situation. Different people have different preferences for communication (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Everyone has a different capacity to read into the intent of a message. Actions and the manner in which messages are delivered may speak volumes (Lee, 2008). It behooves all stakeholders and the project manager to establish a clear set of communicative guidelines as well as the responsibility to always clarify if one is unsure (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Giving others the benefit of the doubt is also a good practice when the intent or tone of a message in asynchronous form may be unclear.

At my current organization, recently an email that was sent out from a behavioral counselor to the ESL department was heavily scrutinized by the administration because it was interpreted as being critical of their actions, when its intent was to make the ESL department as a whole aware of how students (that were pulled from regular classes) were feeling depressed and angry as the students viewed it as a characterization of being not smart enough to fully participate in most of their classes. The counselor simply wanted to encourage the department to offer more positive reinforcement but this was lost in the text, and misinterpreted by upper management. The irony of course is that the reaction from upper management clearly contrasts with one of the tenants of our organization’s “essential agreements” that says we should give the benefit of the doubt if unclear, or to ask for clarification before reaching any conclusions. Even when aware of the challenges that communication poses, it is always a working progress.

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d). Communicating with stakeholders. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3468161_1%26url%3D

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d). Practioner voices; strategies for communicating with stakeholders. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3468161_1%26url%3D

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d). Project management concerns: communication strategies and organizational culture. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3468161_1%26url%3D

Lee, T. J. (2008). Actions speak loudly. Communication World, 25(4), 24-28

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4 thoughts on “Effective Communication and Communicative Modes: Reactions

  1. William,
    I have also dealt with email messages that can easily be misinterpreted. There have been some emails I have received from co-workers where I found the tone very brusque, almost to the point of being rude. Whenever I get a message like that, I always wait awhile before I respond. I am always careful of my wording because email messages are records that leave trails, so whatever is said is set in stone and out there for others to see. I try to use words or phrases such as, “I understand”, “I apologize for”, “Thank you”, etc. to try to soften the message and remain professional, clear, and concise. I always try to give the messenger the benefit of the doubt-even if the tone was rude, perhaps that person was having a bad day or are passionate about a certain situation. It happens. The way it is handled by the recipient is key to how the situation will unfold.

  2. William,
    Your interpretation is quite different from mine. I perceived the voicemail shows more urgent intent of the message than the email by hearing her voice. Voicemail contains invisible gestures, so I don’t send any voicemail when I feel frustrated or upset as people will notice it when they hear the message. In the email message, I would disagree with your opinion. I think there is more possibility that the reader would misinterpret the message. It happens every time when I communicate via email with my ex-husband. Because he reads the email message selectively and interprets it for his favor. I suffer from his misinterpretation all the time. Even my daughter’s second grade teacher gives me a hard time when I send an email. For example, I send an email saying, ” I would like to send cupcakes to class on Nara’s birthday, which is September 19, and Nara informed me that there are 22 kids. I will send 23 cupcakes including yours. Please let me know what time would be the best time to have them delivered on Sep.19?”
    She emailed me back saying, “23 cupcakes will be great. Thanks.”

    I personally prefer email message in any case as I am able to access to the email instantly through the smart phone, but it gives us caution to read the message clearly in finding of what the intent and the purpose of the sender.

    1. Su,

      I wonder if your preference for text is also related to not being a native speaker, though it may not be. I have this preference in Korean as I can look up words or read at my own pace, rather than try to interpret a message at the pace of the speaker. I’d rather talk to someone in person than over the phone as it is much easier. I remember when I had arthroscopic surgery 1.5 years ago, rather than call the hospital and make an appointment, I simply went there to do so. It was easier than being routed through a call center and trying to explain certain things that I may not know well. As for voice mails, I think this is now a sign of the times for me. I have not sent a voice message or listened to one since I lived in the US. Using voice mail is so uncommon these days, but text messages are used for everything. I also get emails occasionally from parents, but for them it is often the most preferred way to communicate directly with me, however it can be challenging due to the language barrier.

  3. One of our classmates asked me on my blog post if I thought a person’s perception was tied to their personality. I think that it is. She said she felt the email may have seemed a little rude; however, I didn’t read anything in to. What do you think? In my opinion, as a project manager, it may not be possible to speak with someone face-to-face each time you need something from them or you have to relay a message. Sometimes, email is just more efficient, and team members should try to put their personal biases aside.

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