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When You Say “Hmmmm”

“Failure to communicate adequately” is a common definition of miscommunication. I find it interesting how this definition puts all of the responsibility on the communicator – none on the listener. And why “adequate”? By who’s standards? How do we know when our communication has been “adequate” for our audience?

I’ve been thinking about this because of an email miscommunication I recently had with a friend. It was one of those silly things – he was being humorous and I took him seriously. This resulted in messages of apology going in both directions. No harm done at all but the misunderstanding did have a small level of discomfort and clarifications took up our time.

Given how much we communicate today (I’m visualizing the difference from when my mother set aside one day a month to write letters to family and friends), and how quickly we create it, I believe the listener is also responsible for making sure the communication is adequate.

When I received the message from my friend, I did wonder: “Hmmmm, is he joking?” I then put the email aside for a few days before replying, hoping for some clarity. In the end, I misinterpreted his words and with that created our flurry of apologies.

What should I, the listener, have done? Well, here’s my new rule: When reading an email, if at any point you go “Hmmm, I wonder what they mean by that?” … pick up the phone! 

Email is a black and white medium, a fabulous way to communicate facts and information, but quite useless when it comes to nuance. My friend’s humour would have been obvious in the sound of his voice.

A good segue to tell you about a bit of fun created this summer with my friend and colleague Linda Daley of Daley Progress – a public debate on two vital business mediums: Phone vs Email.

First, for those able to attend, we’re hosting a light-hearted lunch and learn at Yuk Yuk’s at The Westin Nova  Scotian. You’ll enjoy delicious food, witness the debate moderated by local comedian Lianne Perry – and get to vote on the outcome. You’ll also walk away with a useful decision-making guide for those moments when you’re not sure if you should dial numbers or tap on keys. You can purchase tickets here:

Second, no matter where you live, your vote will count in declaring the winner of the Phone vs Email debate.

You can vote here: (and since you’re reading my blog, I’m really, really hoping your voting for me!). And while we can’t send you the delicious lunch, you will receive the decision-making guide and the final debate results.

Have one more moment? Comment below and share your thoughts on when phone is better than email … or vice versa.

Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!

0 thoughts on “When You Say “Hmmmm””

  1. I’ve certainly had something similar to this happen a few times. Dry humour and sarcasm don’t work in email unless you know the person who sent it well enough to know the difference. And a typo or missing word can lend a whole different meaning to a seemingly simple statement. I’m formulating my rebuttal to this one!

  2. Wow, it’s amazing how many times this has happened to me! I have learned to use a happy face or lol’s in situations where I am not sure they understand its a joke.

    • Thanks, Cathy. I think emoticons work well with family and friends. I’m not sure they are appropriate in business correspondence. What are your thoughts?

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