Tone Misinterpreted In Half Of All Emails

from the we-still-really-need-sarcasm-tags dept

Misinterpretations of emails have been around forever; email flame wars erupt at the slightest provocation. A recent study reports that the tone in email is misinterpreted 50 percent of the time. Furthermore, 90 percent of people think they’ve correctly intepreted the tone of emails they receive, making for a dangerous gap in communication. The lack of tonal and non-verbal cues have made email and IM a haven for misinterpreted statements and flame wars. The study attributes much of the misunderstanding to egocentrism, since readers have a difficult time “detaching themselves from their own perspective.” Supposed email etiquette expert Nancy Flynn needs to check her own egotism. Flynn’s statement that “People write absolutely, incredibly stupid things in company e-mails” could easily be tinder for a nice little flame war. Oh wait, maybe she didn’t mean it that way…


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Comments on “Tone Misinterpreted In Half Of All Emails”

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23 Comments
Stoned4Life (profile) says:

The Obvious Stated Obviously

I?m sure many chat room saavy users have figured this out on their own, at least through trial an error or personal experience, but if you have not yet come to terms with the fact that AIM?ing is not quite the same as face-to-face confrontation, you need a serious reality check. But hey, like everything else I say, take it with a grain of salt.

Tom says:

Re: The Obvious Stated Obviously

I’ve found that the tone of an email should never be interpereted. If its not clearly stated (ex: GET THIS TO ME NOW!!!) then tone should not be interpereted, since it can’t effectively be communicated. Paul, I agree, the schools are to blame for lack of proper communication of the written word; making them realize that there is a problem is an issue that won’t be addressed for a long time.

Cliff says:

Email and IM tonality mishaps

“Supposed email etiquette expert Nancy Flynn needs to check her own egotism. Flynn’s statement that “People write absolutely, incredibly stupid things in company e-mails” ”
She happens to be correct. I’ve worked for a few very large corporations as an IT contractor and I’ve seen some of the most amazingly inaccurate statements broadcast through company email. The many mistakes are: horrible grammer, mispelling (when client programs like Outlook, cc:mail, etc all have spell checkers), subject matter that is clearly inappropriate and just plain wrong. To make it worse than it already is, these inaccuracies could have been avoided by 5 minutes of research or just plain forethought.
Somehow, people have decided that proper conversational etiquette does not apply in the digital world. Perhaps this is because the participants of such conversations have never met. Perhaps these people have never learned proper conversational manner. Who knows? What I do know, however, is that people need to take a few minutes and consider what they are trying to say before they attempt to say it.

some guy (user link) says:

2 centz

i think that the problem is based on the age old practice of proofreading. In the digital world i find that most of the mistakes are due to the nature of speed and ease that the digital world provides. Emails are made easily and quickly, so who would want to take the time to go back and re-read what they just wrote. The truth is that most of the miscommunication is only mistakes* and if the writter bothered to proofread before sending out the email they would save confusion. Then proofreading actually saves time.
* the exception of course is sarcasm which is almost always lost in text

Michael Zaretski says:

Cues like emoticons and XML

All this is why cues like emoticons and XML are important in the textual medium. A ๐Ÿ˜‰ at the end of the joke will go a long way for preventing a flame war. And XML tags are a very eXtensible way of conveying the meaning:

<sarcasm>Yeah, that’s really impressive.</sarcasm>

<tongue location=”cheek”>It might help if you dipped your nose in the mustard.</tongue>

<pat person=”self” organ=”back”>I did it in just three minutes!</pat>

<advocate client=”Devil”>They’ve succeeded in the market because their products are good.</advocate>

Jekke says:

50% of sociologists misinterpret their own researc

Talk about junk science. Strangers passing prepared statements back and forth in which they have no real interest isn’t even close to the way real human beings communicate via e-mail.

It’s no wonder they were right 50% of the time. It’s a coin flip.

All the gobbledegook about egocentrism reveals more about the biases of the researcher than about the nature of e-mail.

caroline says:

suspended from work for 5 daysfrom email misinterp

An email was typed to 2 coworker and was also sent to unit supervisor which it offended. How can you offend someone in ” threatening way” when that’s her own interpritation of the email and not interprited that way to 2 other the mail was sent to? Is it a power trip? Seem that way to me. No verbal or written warnings were given an no previous negative comments towards this employee. But 5 day suspension was granted WHo makes that kind of harsh decision over I email incident?

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