To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. – Tony Robbins
ecently, I was communicating with a peer over email. We were working on a project that involved massive planning. With each correspondence, I became a little more confused by her responses to my questions. What exactly did she mean by her response? Was she aggravated with something I had said? On my end, I was positive that I was making myself crystal clear. However, after reading and rereading her email it was obvious that her negative tone suggested otherwise. If I was interpreting the message correctly, there was definitely a communication gap between us.
Then my phone rang. It was a fellow colleague that worked with my peer. She wanted to share that my peer was very upset by my rude email. Shocked by this bit of news, I scrolled back through my emails and slowly read each one. I just didn’t get it.
I silently read them and attached the same tone, inflection and meaning that I had originally intended. I still didn’t get it. To me, it looked just fine.
And that was the problem- to me, it looked just fine.
I picked up the phone and called my peer directly. At first, she was so upset that she didn’t want to talk. I encouraged her to have a discussion with me. She vented her frustration as I just calmly listened. She went on to explain how she had interpreted my sent message. After patiently listening to her perceptions, I slowly explained my true intent in the email communication. By the end of the conversation, the misunderstanding had been cleared up and we were on the same page.
Did I intend to offend my email recipient? Of course I didn’t. From my perspective, the letter was straightforward and the tone was friendly. However, it certainly wasn’t received that way.
What I failed to take into account was that my email recipient was not me.
Her experiences, worldview and assumptions were far different from my own. Coupled with that was her inability to see my facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures or posture. These definitely would have helped her to better grasp my intended message.
The communication process is complicated. Two people come together with two sets of perceptions, expectations, experiences and world assumptions. To put it simply, two people come from very different places. In addition to this, our current technology for workplace communication makes it even more difficult to correctly evaluate the intended message. This results in ample opportunities for an epic message fail.
With all this said, my advice to you is to slow down. Often, in our haste to get tasks accomplished, we fail to pick up on the subtleties that make a huge difference. And when the message is very important, you might want to pick up the phone.