Mixed Messages

T.T. Mitchell
T.T. Mitchell
There’s nothing easy about communications. Oh sure, we learn how to talk, we learn most of the same words, and we open our mouths and talk to each other. On some levels, it seems communications are easy. They are if both parties are on the same wavelength. If I was talking to someone else about our favorite college basketball team, we’d be just fine. If I was talking to someone about the life of Frederick Douglass and they wanted to talk about cars, then we’d have a problem. We wouldn’t be on the same page, and there’s a good possibility we’d have problems understanding each other. Maybe, if one was acting as teacher and the other as pupil, there might be a chance to get the message across, as teachers do every day with kids. But if the intention was to have an equal and even communication, the effort would fail.

The danger of mixed messages is especially crucial when you’re considering business issues. For me, as a sole proprietor, if I have problems communicating with the person I’m speaking to it could end a business association with that person. I’ve written in the past on issues I’ve had in working with someone who had difficulties communicating with me. If I had the opportunity to speak to this person on the phone, I feel as though we could have resolved our issues. Unfortunately, at the time, this person didn’t see it in her best interest then to take the time out of her schedule to have an open conversation with me, and I ended the association.

Our biggest problem was how we were communicating by email. The medium of email has made it easier to keep in touch with people because you can send them a message and they can hold on to it as long as needed before responding, and they’ll have a consistent reminder of what they wanted to respond to. The two unfortunate things are that many people don’t respond to email messages as readily as phone calls, and when they do, they may not decide to take the time to flesh out what they mean, and thus, one party or the other is left frustrated, trying to interpret what the other means.

If you’re sending email messages, and every message you send is cryptic, you might not be getting across your meaning to the party you’re sending the message to. If the person you’re talking to is writing long, detailed messages, have you considered that maybe they need more back from you? Is it possible that this person thinks you don’t really care about what it is they’re saying, or don’t care enough to at least show that you’ve taken in the entire message?

If there are many issues on the table and you only respond to one thing, are you saying you don’t care about anything else the person addressed to you, or are you saying that you don’t understand anything else and therefore don’t want to address it, or what? And, while you’re responding, have you made sure that the words you chose are conveying the emotional intent you’re hoping for?

Email is very imprecise, and I know there are times when I’ve received email from someone I didn’t know well and taken offense at it, and had to decide whether to respond in kind or give the benefit of the doubt that the person I’m talking to may not have the word skills to state their message any better. And if that’s how you’re suddenly being viewed, as someone with a lack of some kind of verbal skills, how do you think other negative thoughts about you may manifest?

Also, in today’s world, many people have gotten used to the language used in instant messaging chat form, but in business, that doesn’t translate well. Most business people don’t understand terms such as “lol’, or “ty”, and will be instantly turned off if the message they’re receiving doesn’t exhibit at least a modicum of professionalism. Spelling is another matter; what email program in today’s world doesn’t have a spell checker?

Most people don’t give their words or messages a second thought when they write, or say, or do something. They tend to say what’s on their mind at that moment, in whatever manner they wish. The proliferation of bad language is proof of that in today’s world; people just don’t want to take the time to choose words that aren’t graphic or profane. They expect you to accept them as they are, because that’s who they choose to be. Except in rare circumstances, though, those folks don’t ever progress all that far, and if they do they don’t last long.

How you determine another person’s worth in how you’re writing to them is to determine your own worth at the time. If you feel you and your business are worth it, then be more circumspect in your writing style. If you feel some of your colleagues are worth the time to write in the first place, don’t waste their time by sending them email that’s not properly written. If you need help, either ask someone else to look it over, or write your messages in a program such as Microsoft Word, which has an algorithm that can be set to check grammar. It’s not perfect, but it can help.

If you’re going to be the best that you can be, show people that you’re the best at all times, especially through email, and especially if they don’t know you well.

  • For more information, please contact:
    T. T. Mitchell Consulting, Inc.
    Liverpool, NY 13090
    (315) 622-5922 Office
    (419) 730-3638 Fax
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