When someone writes an email, gives a talk, or communicates in any way, there is intent and there is impact. Intent is what we think we are conveying with our message. Impact is the set of perceptions about us (word choice, mannerisms, tone of voice, etc) and the message the recipients actually take away from our communication.
Intent is irrelevant.
Remember the expression “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?” Intent is irrelevant. It’s the impact we have that matters. Since it’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty the impact we will make on others, it’s in the best interests of every business person to eliminate potential misunderstandings and present a positive image to customers, partners, and vendors. Here are a few tips.
Make sure to use the same language, both literally (English, French, Russian, etc.) and figuratively. This means that jargon, acronyms, and industry-specific terminology should be kept out of the conversation unless the receiver is part of that industry. If you are always saying “TLA” and they don’t know that it means “Three Letter Acronym,” then they will expand your abbreviation in their head to something which may not have the same meaning (or intent).
Tone of voice is very important. Saying “nice shoes” to someone with enthusiasm and excitement is likely to make them think you are being genuine. If you say it in a monotone voice, then the receiver may or may not know whether you are being genuine or sarcastic. Make sure to use words that have the specific meaning, or denotation, that you intend. Avoid using words with emotional meanings, or connotations, unless you are trying to evoke an emotional response (which would then be your intent).
Convey your message appropriately. If speaking in person, a large part of your impact will be based on your body language and other non-verbal communication. Saying “nice shoes” while giving a “thumbs up” and smiling is more likely to get a positive response than saying “nice shoes” with a grimace on your face. In written communication, proper spelling, grammar, appropriate word choice, and sentence structure is paramount.
Impact is hard to predict. Since we never know what someone else is thinking or what their background is, communicate as effectively as possible for your audience. Written messages, emails, text messages, and letters give us a chance to edit before we send them, but we only have one shot when we open our mouths and speak. Be sure your intent is creating the right impact.