Email Communication Continues To Be Misunderstood

from the flame-this dept

As we have noted here before, emails are very easily misinterpreted, which explains why online flame wars are infamously common. With the emergence of social neuroscience new findings have been published to further explain why emails often result in misunderstandings. Email is at a distinct disadvantage since it lacks the sensory richness of a face-to-face conversation. In a face-to-face conversation, we can judge the tone of the conversation by body language, gestures and tone of voice. So, left with only the words in an email, we are left to interpret the tone of the emails in a vacuum. But, never fear, there are ways to improve email communication. Since studies have shown that misunderstandings occur less between people who are familiar with each other, Professor Clay Shirky recommends to start communication face-to-face and then move on to email. Even saying "Hi" every morning goes a long way to facilitating the social glue. Long touted as the true "killer app" of the Internet, email has definitely improved communications -- that said, it's critical to recognize the differences of this medium and be sensitive to the challenges that it brings.

Filed Under: communication, email

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  1. identicon
    Fraust, 9 Oct 2007 @ 9:48am


    E-mail is just another method of written communication. Letters existed long before e-mail or even computers.

    Verbal communication does include body language and facial expression however, people often misunderstand verbal communication just as well as written. Talking to someone provides no guarantee that they won't misinterpret what you're saying based on their own insanity or stupidity, than if you wrote them a clear and concise letter. I have found that college graduates in particular tend to interpret what they hear rather than actually listen to what someone is saying. In my experience, a lot of people hear parts of sentences. Phrases. The same appears to be true in written communication. In the end, you can alter what you say and how you say it, or write something in very clear concise terms, but if the idiot reading it has a loose wireless connection with reality (is crazy) or was dropped on their head as a child (stupid), it doesn't matter how you say or write something. They just won't get it. What we can do to help the person we're communicating with is cut back on the verbosity of written and verbal communication and just get straight to the point in clear and concise terms(Ph.D's especially have trouble with cutting back on words, since they like to talk and witness a captive audience listening to the sound of their voice or reading some e-mail or document from them that has a title that is far to long with content that is excessively verbose). Getting straight to the point of communication with as few words as possible gives the brain less work in understanding the communication.

    A rule of thumb is to calm down before writing a letter or e-mail. Being emotional makes it more likely that you'll say or write something that you will regret later. Also keep in mind that when writing e-mail at work, someone other than your intended recipient can and in fact might see this e-mail. Don't write anything you wouldn't want a third party to read.

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