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.
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.
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.
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.
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