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Friday, 21 September 2012


As a backdrop to this entry, I am to give my interpretation of a piece of information as it was delivered in three different modalities.  The message and interpretations follow:

Message: Hi Mark.  I know you have been busy and possibly in that all day meeting today, but I really need an ETA on the missing report.  Because your report contains data I need to finish my report, I might miss my own deadline if I don’t get your report soon.  Please let me know when you think you can get your report sent over to me, or even if you can send the data I need in a separate email.   I really appreciate your help. Jane.

In the written format, I sensed urgency from Jane’s communication, perhaps to the point of desperation.  I also get the impression that Jane has tried several times to obtain this report from Mark.

In this format, Jane comes over as authoritative, rushed and angry.  Had I been on the receiving end of this voicemail, I would feel as if I were given an ultimatum for producing the report.  Jane in this format comes over as being Mark’s superior or one who would mete out discipline as the next step if the report is not received.

This time around, Jane has a less rushed or demanding tone.  She rather sounds a lot more pleading than in the other formats.  Body language cues are available here and they convey a more casual and friendly approach.  Jane here seems to be Mark’s equal colleague, attempting to explain how the submission of Mark’s report affects her work.

From this exercise, it is clear that each modality has its own features, advantages and disadvantages.  This connotes that each modality would also have a best fit, depending on factors such as context, desired outcome, meaning, audience, and so forth.  In my purview, apart from being the most formal mode, written communication is the most controlled and therefore should be the staple mode of communication for project teams.  Whereas tone and body language can often send wrong or ambiguous signals, written formats can be used utilized to objectively confirm and clarify meaning. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton & Kramer (2008) advise that while “informal communications occur continuously in the normal course of business”, all communication should be confirmed in writing.  This is a practice that I myself have seen the value of, seek to apply to my work, and will encourage others to also apply.

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.


  1. Divia,

    I am with you on everything that you have stated. I also feel that the written format, which is the most formal, leaves the least amount of room for misinterpretation or forgetfulness. It should back up all forms of communications. Also, it is very important to keep in mind the audience, as everyone has his/her preference. It just so happens that my personal preference is in the form of written communication, but others really need a voice and/or a face/body language to put with the message. So, in order to be effective, a combination of forms should be employed.

  2. Divia,

    It is so interesting to me that not only are there so many different ways of communicating, but how people perceive those messages can all be very different. In the voicemail message, you mentioned you thought Jane sounded authoritative and perhaps Mark's superior. That thought never even crossed my mind, I did not think that Jane would discipline Mark had he not finished the report quickly. It just goes to show how important effective communication is!

  3. Hi Divia,
    Great post! I agree that each form of communication can be interpreted differently and that social cues from a voicemail or a face-to-face interaction may be lost in the written form. I also agree with Krystle's comment that the effect of the voicemail seeming authoritative didn't cross my mind either when I heard it...but I can see how someone might interpret it that way. This just enforces the idea that it's important to know your audience and figure out what style of communication will get you your desired result from that person most efficiently.
    Thanks :)

  4. Hi Divia
    I find it interesting how each individual can a interpret messages in various modalities. I found the email to be unclear and not very direct. I felt that the author was almost giving the recipient permission for being late with his report when the author stated that "I'm sure you had a long tiring day at work". I think that if she were a bit more direct, her sense of urgency would have come across loud and clear. Thus, she may have received an immediate response.