How do you prefer to receive your messages from a coworker? Have you mastered the art of effective communication? The discussion today focuses on our reaction to receiving the same messages in different media such as in written text (email), as audio (voice recording), and as a face-to-face conversation.
Reading a written text through email does not always convey the urgency of requests. If a coworker were asking for an update on a project I was way behind in, I may not respond promptly unless asked to respond promptly. Emails tend to appear one directional, especially when there is no mention of how soon a response should be made. Also, emails and other written messages lack a sense of personal communication (Portny et al., 2008). The greetings usually start with a “Hi” and end with a “sincerely” or “thank you” that do not convey a sense of friendship. Rather, written texts tend to be interpreted as neutral and impersonal. Written text needs to clearly state the outcomes and be detailed, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Emails and letters are fine for documenting communication to create a virtual “paper trail” that can be used fire an individual, but communication should be followed up by a face-to-face encounter or include a reply date. In an email example that I had looked at, there were no “respond by” timeline, expectations were not clearly identified, and no mention of a face-to-face follow up was discussed.
A voice recording on an answering machine is more personal than a written text, but it is not a good substitute for an actual face-to-face conversation. The voice recording offers some personalization, but lacks the interpretability stemming from body language (Portny et al., 2008). The changes in tone and pitch help convey more information than written text. For instance, a person yelling the message means urgent and lacks a sense of being respectful. Portraying a calm, pleasing voice may convey respect and a sense of non-emergency. A shaky voice can mean urgent and still respectful while also showing fear or concern.
Lastly, having a face-to-face meeting allows us to interpret body language from what is actually being said. A coworker that smiles while asking a question or making a statement can be interpreted differently when that person is crossing their arms or wrinkling their eyebrows. The urgency of requests can be implied through body language by lifting a finger (not the middle one!) such as the pointer. In an example that I have seen, a smile was shown to convey a happy tone during the greetings phase, an eyebrow raised to show sternness, and a finger was lifted to show urgency.
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.