(This post is excerpted from The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders.)

In an age when much more is being written than spoken, appreciation for the tone of the written word is being lost. For example, a typical cryptic text or email relies on emojis to communicate a serious, sarcastic or playful tone.

Even the craftiest emoji user loses subtle intended meaning. When you are speaking, the words you stress can change the underlying meaning of a sentence.

Look at the following sentence: I don’t think he should get the job. This simple sentence can have many levels of meaning based on the word you stress.

Consider the meaning of the following sentences with the stressed word in bold. Read each sentence aloud and strongly stress the word in bold:

1. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Somebody else thinks he should get the job.

2. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: It’s not true that I think he should get the job.

3. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: That’s not really what I mean. OR I’m not sure he’ll get the job.

4. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Somebody else should get the job.

5. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: In my opinion, it’s wrong that he’s going to get the job.

6. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: He should have to earn (be worthy of, work hard for) the job.

7. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: He should get another job.

8. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Maybe he should get something else instead.

As you can see, this simple eight-word sentence can be interpreted eight different ways, resulting in very unreliable communication.

Today’s information-rich, time-poor world forces us to write and speak more specifically and clearly than ever. If we do not, we are rolling the dice. We have just a one-in-eight, or 12.5 percent, chance that others will receive the same simple message we are sending.

Excellent leaders start with their own reliability before they expect it from their teams. The positive example they provide sets the expectation for their teams to also deliver reliable performance.

So, next post we will move from Personal Reliability to Coaching Reliability and explore the five coaching habits that excellent leaders use to achieve reliable team performance.