One of my mantras is that you can’t tell tone in a text or email. That was recently reinforced in a single word: “Sure.” One of my adult children had asked for my OK on something, to which I responded “Sure.” Later, my child acted hesitant and wanted to see if I really was fine with this proposal. It turns out that my “sure” was interpreted to mean, “I’d rather you not do that, but if that’s what you really want, then sure.”
I’m grateful to live in the 21st century where I can communicate quickly and efficiently by text or email to people all around the country and world. I’m troubled to live in the 21st century where many people seem to think that all communication can be handled by text and email, and where everyone infers tone and intent in a few words that appear on a screen.
I don’t want to revert to a low tech era when email and text messages didn’t exist. But let me remind you of two simple leadership and communication principles that are often forgotten. First, if your message is important, then communicate it face-to-face when possible, and by phone when you can’t meet in person. This is especially true if the message has any touch of conflict, if some kind of back-and-forth will be needed, or if it’s not straightforward and could be misinterpreted.
Second, become more aware of the assumptions you’re making when you read emails and texts. Are you adding tone or inflections that aren’t part of the black-and-white message? If you find yourself getting frustrated, what have you assumed about the sender’s intent? What alternate interpretations are possible?
Will these simple steps improve your communications and relationships? Just say “sure” if you think they will.
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