What puzzles me about the task set us this week is why the same language is used for all the three communication formats. Following prominent linguistic thought of the 20th century, I suggested in my EDUC-6135-1 Week4 discussion post that speaking and writing belong to different varieties of language-in-use (Bakhtin’s  term speech genres may be more familiar to you). “The actual situation of the communication has evolved two varieties of language: the spoken and the written. . . . Each of these varieties has developed its own features and qualities which in many ways may be regarded as opposed to each other” (Galperin, 2012, p.35).
To put it in very general terms, the difference between the two varieties of language is as follows:
“The situation in which the spoken variety of language is used and in which it develops, can be described concisely as the presence of an interlocutor. The written variety, on the contrary, presupposes the absence of an interlocutor. The spoken language is maintained in the form of a dialogue, the written in the form of a monologue. The spoken language has a considerable advantage over written, in that the human voice comes into play. This is a powerful means of modulating the utterance, as are all kinds of gestures, which, together with the intonation, give additional information. / The written language has to seek means to compensate for what it lacks. Therefore the written utterance will inevitably be more diffuse, more explanatory. In other words, it has to produce an enlarged representation of the communication in order to be explicit enough” (Galperin, 2012, p. 35).
Any utterance / message, if it is to sound natural and to be effective, should clearly demonstrate the characteristics that set it as belonging to either the spoken or the written variety. No one can make it belong to both. The context and format of communication determines one’s choice and sue of both linguistic and extralinguistic means.
Therefore, in this week’s assignment, at least one of the three communications is doomed to a resounding failure.
Communication through e-mail messages is purely written and puts constraints to bear on the message-sender and the message-recipient, the major constraints being that you cannot see the interlocutor, you cannot hear them, nor can you talk to them “to clarify the content, meaning, and implication of the message being sent” (Portny et al, 2008).
The e-mail we are to analyze in terms of its effectiveness as a piece of communication is a short informal message, presumably, sent by one project team member to another. Although Jane, the message sender, seems to try to persuade Mark, the message recipient, to find time and invest some effort to provide her with the data she needs (as her own task depends on Mark’s task for completion), Jane does so in a most ineffective manner; her message is not informative: for example, it is not specific as to the time Mark still has to work on Jane’s request (she should have included a reference to the project timeline); moreover, Mark may be working on a few projects simultaneously, therefore, Jane should have included the name of the project and a reference to the task that she herself is engaged in. As Portny et al (2008) have it, “be specific”, “the clearer a request, the easier it is for the person to estimate the effort needed to respond to the request and to produce the right results the first time” (p.300).
Dr. Stolovitch (Laureate Education, n.d.a) specifically states that written communications should begin with a clear purpose, state the situation, include possible solutions, specify a response and avoid ambiguity – “communication that is clear, concise, and focused helps everyone stay on target and get the job done”.
As it is, Mark will have to contact Jane (that is if he chooses to do so) to clarify quite a few important points that she failed to include in her initial e-mail.
Jane does seem to be a poor diplomat when she expresses herself in writing. A piece of advice that I would offer Jane is not to rely on the first person singular that much, the use of “we” (the team) creates a greater sense of urgency and importance, as well as accountability. She should have let Mark feel that she is addressing him on behalf of the team, and that she is not really asking him to do anything beyond what he agreed to do. She should have implicitly let him understand that she is not asking him for a personal favor, but that the message is a routine reminder of the project timeline.
An ill-written message may, and often does, result in miscommunication.
Considering that voicemail is still one-way communication, it should largely comply with the requirements for effective written communication in that it is to be highly explanatory, with the content carefully sequenced and worded. Therefore, all the critical comments I made on the e-mail transfer on the voicemail.
However, all things equal, the voicemail seems to be more effective because, besides lexical, grammatical, and syntactical means, the sender has prosody to support the illocutionary force of the message and to achieve its pragmatic end (the perlocutionary act – the effect on the addressee) (Nayer, 2002). Tonality, intonation, pauses, tempo, sentence stress, variations in pitch all serve to help the sender encode and the recipient to decode the pragmatic implications of the message, making it easier to interpret (prosody is frequently used for signaling purposes to focus the listener’s attention on the most important information and, thus, building a better representation of the content [Mayer, 2008]), more informative, context enriching, and more personal.
Face-to-face communication allows the addresser the widest choice of communication tools possible, making it the preferred means of communication for a vast majority of people. Although it is the most economical in terms of time needed and the language means employed, it has the greatest potential for transmitting a message effectively and for ensuring it is decoded correctly. No wonder, the third format of communication in this week’s task – a face-to-face conversation – would come to many of those watching it as the most natural and effective of the three.
As Dr. Stolovich (Laureate Education, n.d.a) has it, communication is not just words – your spirit, attitude, tonality and body language, as well as timing, are even more important than the words you use. The use of body language is what primarily differentiated face-to-face communication from purely written or purely auditory messages.
“Body language is a kind of nonverbal communication, where thoughts, intentions, or feelings are expressed by physical behaviors, such as facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space” (Wikipedia, n.d.).
Moreover, what makes face-to-face communication the most effective of the three dealt with in this week’s task is the use of dual coding as defined in the Multimedia Theory of Learning. The audio and visual inputs are the most natural way we communicate as human beings. Face-to-face communication is easiest to bring in alignment with such important principles of the Multimedia Theory of Learning as the Modality Principle, the Multimedia Principle, and the Personalization Principle (Mayer, 2008).
This week’s assignment offers a vivid illustration of what can foster or impede effective communication in different communication environments. It is important to mind the strengths and weaknesses of different modes of communication to be able to capitalize on the advantages that each of them offers and to reduce or minimize the communication deficiencies that waylay a unadept one.
Considering the fact that communication strategies should be tailored to fit the specific needs of a variety of stakeholder audiences (Laureate Education, n.d.b), a PM must be proficient in using any communication format that a particular stakeholder audience finds most convenient to use.
Bakhtin, M.M. (2010). Speech genre and other later essays (12th ed.). USA: University of Texas Press.
Galperin, I.R.(2012). English stylistics (4th ed.). Moscow: URSS.
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.a). Communicating with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.b). Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760-769. doi:10.1037/0003
Nayer, V.L. (2002). Stylistics and pragmatics. Moscow: Moscow State Linguistic University
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.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Body language. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_language