Recently I was presented with an embarrassing situation. I had been e-mailed by one of my on-line contacts with a price list for her product, and the magic words, I will call you in a couple of days to follow up on your order.

Why was it embarrassing? Well, I hadn’t asked to buy any of her product, and I couldn’t for the life of me work out where I had given off a buying signal. So, the only course of action was to immediately e-mail back and apologise to my contact if I had mislead her, set the record straight (I’m not wanting any of your product right now), and offer to refer her to anyone that I knew may be in the market for her product.

I received a very sweet e-mail back, almost immediately, apologising for the mix-up – my contact had not properly read my previous e-mail to her.  A potentially embarrassing situation averted! So what was the benefit of me, re-setting expectations, rather than the easy route of just ignoring the e-mail? Well, the relationship is now even stronger and to prove it I just received a great testimonial from my contact to put onto my website.

However, how often do we take the easy route and not get back to a potential supplier when we have decided not to use them? Or even worse, not return their calls? In my experience as a small business owner, this happens all too often. Someone that I used to work with, who was promising me an opportunity to tender for a juicy bit of management development work, has suddenly gone quiet on me. Of course, it may just be that she is busy – or it could be that she is now embarrassed that she can’t fix it so that I am able to tender for the piece of work. (Well, that’s the story my mind is concocting up!) The morale of the story – if you leave a communication gap, people will fill it with a story, that may or may not have a basis in reality.

Click here to find out how you can improve your assertiveness by taking our free assertiveness self-assessment. (email required)

I’ve recently been helping a law firm with its communication skills. All too often people quote the magic stats about how meaning is derived from the different types of face-to-face communication,

  • 55% of meaning is determined by body language–postures, gestures, and eye contact,
  • 38% by the tone of voice, and
  • 7% by the content or the words used in the communication process.

Not many people then go onto quote what happens if you are talking on the phone and don’t have the benefit of a video phone. As I am a bit of a swat, the percentages change as follows:

  • 84% of meaning is derived from the tone of the voice, and
  • 16% of meaning is from the content of the word.

So what’s the relevance of quoting these stats? What it highlights is that when you use e-mail as a form of communication, it is very easy to cause a misunderstanding – People, without the benefit of tone or body language, are left to derive meaning from your words based on their own attitudes, goals, behaviours, values and past experiences. And this assumes that they took the time, unlike my on line contact, to properly read your words in the first place. That’s a big if!

It’s amazing with the amount of pitfalls associated with written communication, the western culture places more value on the written rather than spoken word. Just evidence this by the fact that I am making a written blog, rather than a video blog. It’s interesting that youtube receives more than twice the amount of daily searches than google. But it’s our position in a google search that we are all interested in.

So how do you make sure that you words have been understood properly? Firstly, if you can deliver the message face-to-face, or via phone, you have far better chance of being properly understood. If you must use e-mail or a letter, (wherever practically possible), follow up with a phone call to explain and check understanding.

If you’ve had a recent misunderstanding and would like some help or advice, do give us a call – +44 (0) 1234 48 0123. Or if you must, drop us a line –

Click here to find out how you can improve your assertiveness by taking our free assertiveness self-assessment. (email required)

Scroll to Top