The Tone of Communication

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As most in management know, one of the most critical elements to succeed in business today is to communicate effectively, both inside and outside the organization. While many senior executives and managers pride themselves on their self-perceived communication skills, it is also no secret that many recipients of those communications do not feel the same way.

Just as there are many forms of communication, there also are various tones that can go along with the messages. Sometimes what is ultimately communicated has nothing to do with the actual words used. It could be a look, a perception or a statement not made that tells more than the words used. In short, the tone of what is communicated can be as critical as the message.

So here is a shorthand look at some of the various tones of communication that executives and managers may be sending between the lines of the real message they intend to deliver.

  • Just the facts. There is nothing flowery in this data/information-based kind of communication, where only facts are stated without context. The recipient gets the data, but not necessarily the relative importance. Each recipient gets to create his or her interpretation of the meaning and import.
  • Angry eyes. The listener can tell by looking at your eyes that this message matters big time. However, it is too easy to misinterpret that the speaker is angry about not getting that promotion while delivering a totally unrelated message to someone else.
  • Between the lines. We hear what was said but know deep down that the speaker doesn’t really mean that. Everyone knows the real meaning of an announcement that a "valued" member of the team is leaving the company to "pursue other interests." Translation? Fired.

  • Curt. Maybe the boss doesn’t buy in to this communication and is just following orders. A curt tone leaves the listener guessing.
  • Generic. This tone describes the way the boss generally communicates. These messages usually contain nothing of note. They can be ignored like all the rest.
  • The big one. This is the memo that talks about all you’ve been through together and the tough times coming during the next year. Translation? Dust off the resume; a hit list is being made.
  • The joker. Some messages contain so many genuinely funny comments that it’s difficult to tell when the person is really not kidding.
  • Pals’ talk. When messages always treat subordinates like buddies rather than subordinates, the communications don’t always carry the necessary weight. It can be a shocking surprise when the really tough message has to be delivered. Suddenly, the pal is no longer a friend.

No matter what message an executive or manager is attempting to communicate, it is important that the method of delivery be taken into consideration. And after the communication, it is just as important to doulbe-check with the recipients about what it is they heard, as opposed to what was said.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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