Thursday, March 21, 2013


Which mode of communication do you prefer: written, audio, or video? This week I reviewed a sample communication in each of those three modes to see if the type of communication affected my interpretation of the message. Here is the communication in written form: 

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” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012).

Written – When I read this I experienced Jane as feeling urgent, conscientious, and compassionate. She is clear about her request and also steps outside her own perspective to share insight into Mark’s workload and offer a compromise solution. If I got this email I would make it a priority to give Jane what she needs and thank her for her patience.

Audio – Next, I listened to an audio recording of Jane reading the same communication. Again, Jane came across as urgent, conscientious, and compassionate, although slightly less assertive.

Video – Finally, I watched a video of Jane speaking the communication. Jane seemed friendly, supportive, and quite a bit less assertive in the email and audio. Jane did something that women often do (and it drives me crazy!), which is to make a statement sound like a question by raising her voice inflection at the end of the sentence. “So please let me know…? If you can send it over soon?” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). This diminishes the urgency of the situation and suggests that she is flexible about waiting for the data. “According to Deborah Tannen, we hear a downward cadence as ‘closed’ or ‘final,’ with the extreme being ‘controlling.’ Conversely, we hear an upward cadence as ‘open’ and ‘flexible’ with the extreme being ‘indecisive’” (Tannen, 2011).If I were an over-scheduled Mark, I would not likely prioritize getting Jane’s data to her.

After this exercise I reflected on the nature of communication among some of the project teams I’ve worked with. All have blended written, audio and face-to-face communication. Is one mode better than another?

I prefer written communication, and I want it to be clear and concise. (Ernest Hemingway never wasted a word, and I wish more people were that way.) Some people need to give chapter and verse of everything they say, and others like to chit chat for a minute or two before they discuss the issue at hand.

A project manager needs to be able to reach and receive from everyone on the team, regardless of their communication style. This is easier when the PM is familiar with the team. Once I recognize someone’s style I make an effort to communicate with them in that style and mode. It helps ensure that the message sent is actually received.


Laureate Education, Inc., (Producer). (2012). The Art of Effective Communication. [Multimedia Program]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Tannen, D. (2011). The eloquent woman blog. Retrieved from


  1. You provided great insight into the verbal communication in this example. The cadence and inflection of a speaker is very important to getting the proper message across. The inflection at the end of the sentence really does make a difference. I went back and listened to the request again in the face-to-face scenario and the voicemail scenario. This time, however, I did not watch the screen so both methods would be simply verbal. By eliminating the body language clues, I could clearly hear that the voicemail was more authoritative than the meeting in person. I listened specifically for the inflection at the end of the sentence and I did hear what you were talking about. The speaker did raise her voice making the statement sound more like an open ended question. Instead of saying something like “Please get me the information by tomorrow,” the speaker reduced the urgency by saying “could you please try to get me the information by tomorrow.” Even in written form, the first sentence sounds more urgent but no less polite.

    Stolovich (n.d.) mentions that the person’s preferred mode of delivery should be taken into account. This is true for both sides of the communication. The sender must be comfortable using the mode chosen and the recipient must be comfortable in the mode chosen. This insight will only come from spending time with the person and becoming familiar with how they like to receive requests. If you are not comfortable asking for something in person either because the person is a higher level or you feel intimidated, you should select an alternate method. Email may be the best bet for the shy person as it avoids the face-to-face confrontation.


    Stolovitch, H. (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders. [video]. Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 19, 2013 from

    1. Dave,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. We communicate almost constantly, often without much forethought. This vignette illustrates how easily the mode of communication can bias our interpretation of the message and the other person.

  2. Sally,

    I really found your interpretations a little different from mine. I thought that Jane came off assertive in her email and voicemail, maybe even rude. This plays a part in understanding your colleagues and the stakeholder. There are often times when we say things and mean it one way, but a person takes it differently.
    Your example below clarifies why this happens.
    I found the information on cadence and inflection of one's voice to be very informative and confirmed what I have seem before, but never realized its significance. Thank you for sharing. I also think that the rapport between any two people could be shaky at any point and anything that those people say to one another could come off negatively, because you already have a fixed opinion of them.


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    2. Ebony,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I'm not surprised we interpreted Jane's messages differently; most of the people I know, especially women, favor a "softer" communication style than I do. I did too, for a long time; then I started my own business, and the combination of working from home while raising two kids and caring for my elderly parents changed the way I communicate. I wake up every morning with more to do than I can get done in a day, and I value precision in communication. It doesn't work for everyone, and that's something I strive to remain aware of. I'm a work in progress :)

  3. Hi Sally,
    Your interpretation is not extremely different than mine. I felt that Jana was better in person, but I had not noticed the "cadence" that you mentioned. I think you make an extremely important point and one that as a women, I take into account at work but not at home. At work, I am more direct than when I am at home. The other factor that may have been overlooked is culture. When I lived in Costa Rica I found that they don't ask direct questions but rather ask them by the inflection and tone in their voice. I picked that up and when I returned I found myself doing the same thing. I had and still have trouble at times getting my point across because here in the United States most people do not understand and think a statement is being made.

    Talk to you later,

    1. Andrea,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm fascinated by your cultural insight. You're so right that culture plays a significant role in communication style.