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Your mother may have been right – you better watch your tone

As any successful leaders knows, communication is critical to the long term success of your organization.  Is that a reality or just some mumbo jumbo you’ve read in every business book ever published?  Well according to a recently published Harvard Business Review article by Groysberg and Slind, the failure to effectively communicate led to significant issues at companies such as Nokia, Enron, Star Princess Cruise Lines, British Petroleum and Thai Airways (Groysberg & Slind, 2012).  How could Enron have failed as a result as something as basic as communications problems?   Very easy actually.  The communication process seems destined to failure given everything working against it.  In the simplest case you have the sender of the message and the receiver engaged in an exchange that’s hampered by selective perception, filtering, jargon, irony, sarcasm and the list goes on and on.  In later blog entries I’ll talk about some of these communication blockers, but for now we’ll talk about how something as simple as tone can introduce confusion in your message.

A different tone can very easily change the intention of the message the sender wishes to pass along to the receiver.  For example, notice how changing the tone on different words in the sentence “I did not tell John you were late” provides a variety of different meanings:

Source: Based on M.Kiely, “When ‘No’ Means ‘Yes’ Marketing, October 1993 p. 7 -9.

So in this case mom was right, watch your tone to ensure you’re communicating the exact message to your receiver.


Bauer, T., & Erdogan, B. (2010).  Organizational behavior.  Irvington, NY: Flat World Knowledge Inc.

Groysberg, B., & Slind, M. (2012, October 25). The silent killer of big companies. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/10/the_silent_killer_of_big_companies.html


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