Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

Communicating Effectively

This week, we viewed the multimedia program “The Art of Effective Communication” in which the following message was delivered in three ways: email, voicemail, and face-to-face.

Jane's email

Although the words were exactly the same, the message came across differently in each modality. These were my impressions.


My impression from this message is that Jane feels:

  • Frustrated because she has tried to get this report from Mark before.
  • Desperate because she is about to miss her deadline, and it’s all Mark’s fault.
  • Not really concerned about Mark’s busy day and expects him to drop everything and get it done.

Although written communications provide an efficient manner for delivering facts, the author cannot “pick up nonverbal signals that suggest an audience’s reactions to the message” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 358).


After hearing Jane’s tone of voice as she delivers the message, my impression changed slightly:

  • Jane needs the report ASAP, but it isn’t quite as urgent as the email indicated.
  • Jane isn’t mad at Mark, nor does she blame him for the report that is missing, but she does expect a prompt response.
  • Jane appreciates Mark’s help because he’s busy.


In the final modality, the addition of facial cues along with voice tone give yet a third impression.

  • Although Jane needs the report soon, it’s not urgent.
  • Jane doesn’t blame Mark for the missing report but sees him as someone who can help her out of a bind.
  • Jane is trying to sweet-talk him because she knows he’s busy.
  • Mark could probably put her off for awhile.


In our business and personal lives, we rely more and more on email and text. In the “Communicating with Stakeholders” video, Dr. Stolovitch reminds us that communication is not just about words, but also “spirit and attitude, tonality, body language, timing, and personality of the recipient” (Laureate Education, n.d.). Not only are those cues hard to convey in writing, but I believe we sometimes say things from a distance that we wouldn’t say in person. Complicating this issue, as we send more of our messages via mobile devices, we tend to be brief and to the point, omitting the social niceties of face-to-face discourse. As a result, the recipient may find our messages to be abrupt, bossy, or rude.

A project manager should ask stakeholders and team members what form of communication they prefer. Most people will chose email, which, as this assignment proves, is the most likely form to create misunderstanding. As a remote worker, I find this particularly challenging because I can’t drop by someone’s office or pass them in the hall. Those casual meetings often reveal important information, and they can build rapport. Since completing this assignment, I’ve been more sensitive to my emails and found myself picking up the phone more often.


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.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with Stakeholders [Video podcast]. Retrieved from


Comments on: "Communicating Effectively" (2)

  1. Hi Walden,

    The reason why most people choose email is because it’s binding and can be archived, and not because it’s ideal. Everyone knows that email can cause many conflicts because the tone is nearly always assumed to be aggressive, or, at the very least, subtly aggressive.

    This post is of extreme importance to project managers, and I would like to republish it on PM Hut where many of them can benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut site in case you’re OK with this.

  2. Deanna,

    I actually completely agree with your interpretation of the three modalities. While great for documenting important communications, casual email, texts, and IMs run the risk of being interpreted, because as you pointed out we are brief by email and run the risk of sounding curt, rude, abrupt, etc., and also because as the reader we inject our own personality or mood into the reading of the email depending on the day. We might read something when we are in a fuss one day and be irritated by it, and read it the next and realize it wasn’t so bad after all. I found an interesting infographic talking about just why this is and just how people feel about, and respond to, email at careertopia ( Notable in the infographic is that while 92% of respondents feel email is a valuable communication tool, nearly two thirds of them have sent or received an email which unintentionally led to miscommunication. The trick is to decide when to use written and when to use verbal communication; personally in this situation I would have chosen verbal if possible.

    According to a study in the Journal of Science and Psychology, we run about a 50% chance of misinterpreting the tone of an email we receive, whereas we *feel like* we understand the tone of those same emails 90% of the time, leading to a lot of misunderstanding and escalation of situations, which might be otherwise sorted out when meeting face-to-face (Leahy, 2006). I am sure that this is why Walden suggests that we use overt statements of the tone of our postings (such as, at the outset of a posting, ‘a brief note of humor’ rather than an emoticon to clearly indicate humor, etc.). It might seem like overkill to those accustomed to communicating online with friends, but in a “room” of strangers with different sensibilities, it’s definitely the safer way to communicate.



    Leahy, S. (2006, Dec 13). The secret cause of flame wars. Retrieved from

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