How often do we take words for granted?
How often do we say what is in our heads with no thought for how the message is received?
The gap between your thought and their reception can be huge- friendships are destroyed, marriages fall apart and wars are fought in this gap.
Consider the phrase, “I took the liberty of adding you to my exclusive email list”. The message creator thinks they just complimented the receiver by including the receiver in an exclusive list. The recipient might only see “I took the liberty” and feel the message creator was entitled and thoughtless.
“I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience”, is another thoughtless message, one that endless numbers of real estate agents use simply because they heard it in a seminar, somewhere. The idea, here, to communicate that the agent is very busy but attentive. The receiver might hear that their concern is not convenient or important.
Jokes cracked to relieve tension are almost never well received, especially online where nonverbal cues are completely absent.
In each case, the sender is not thinking about the recipient. They are thinking about themselves. But any communication is a two-way process with information flowing back and forth between sender and recipient. Failure to consider how anyone might receive a message is a failure to communicate.
Advertisers and politicians are two examples of professionals in communication. They consider their audience in anything that they do. Before delivering a speech or publishing an ad they have to consider,
“Who am I talking to and how can I make them understand my message?”
They picture their audience- are they working parents, for example? What is a working parent dealing with at the point they receive the message? One can imagine a person in a mad dash after work, picking up kids, getting dinner on the table, homework done, baths coordinated and melt downs averted. By picturing this parent, one might craft a message that is quick, to the point, and a tad entertaining. A message that pats them on the head or is fact filled and boring will not go over well.
With this thought in mind, let’s return to “I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience”.
The recipient of that message needed something. They wanted it urgently enough that they didn’t send an email or a letter- they called, hoping to get that something right away. Getting voice mail was already a bit of a disappointment. Being told that your convenience is more important than their urgent need? That is downright insulting.
Why not acknowledge the sender’s urgency? “your call is important and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”.