If you’ve been using e-mail for more than a month, for business or pleasure, you’re probably well aware of the fact that it’s very easy to be misunderstood while communicating. It’s happens every day … much more than most of us realize.
How many times have you written something with the full intention of being humorous only to discover that the person you were writing to was actually offended? Or how about a casual comment from you that was taken as being sent with anger, aggravation, contempt, or sarcasm?
Usually when we discover that the other person misunderstood, we’re dumbfounded at the thought. How could they possibly have misinterpreted our simple message. Well, the answer is actually very simple … we just don’t think about it.
The majority of us write an e-mail exactly as though we were talking to the other person face-to-face. It’s human nature! Why would we do anything other than that? What we don’t seem to comprehend is that those we speak to face to face don’t interpret our message by words alone!
In fact, words contribute only 7% to our message clarification. The remaining 93% of message interpretation consists of facial expression (including eye contact), body language and tone of voice and social context … all of which are key to proper understanding!
Research tells us that both sender and receiver tend to automatically fill in the “tone” of an e-mail, 93% of the actual message, based on how they feel or what they fear, not what’s actually being said. It can, and does, happen to anyone, no matter how knowledgeable.
Studies have shown that some 54% of e-mails are incorrectly interpreted in some way by the receiver of the message. While this may cause havoc in the workplace or within friendships, there’s even more bad news long term. Most of these e-mails go unchallenged. You could very well anger someone, bruise someone’s ego or burn bridges and never even be aware of it.
Here are some basic tips for making sure you don’t accidentally annoy, anger or intimidate the people you communicate with via e-mail.
- If you’re joking or being sarcastic, use surrogate facial cues like smiley faces — : ) — or type “[grin]” or use some other indicator of your intent. They seem trivial but are very important.
- Use plentiful qualifiers such as “don’t take this the wrong way,” “I’m joking,” or “I’m not angry at all.”
- Beware of brief e-mails, as they can be interpreted as abrupt. A very short e-mail can be interpreted as cold, angry or demeaning.
- Start the e-mail with something obviously humorous, which conveys that you’re not angry.
- Think about who you’re talking to. It’s very easy for a co-worker or subordinate at work to read anger, disappointment or other negative emotions into your notes. If you’re a manager, you need to go out of your way to send friendly e-mails or you’ll end up with a morale problem. In-laws and relatives might be easily offended as well.
- End your e-mail in a friendly way, such as “Thank you!” or “I really appreciate this.”
- Always re-read your e-mails before sending—and be on the lookout for areas of misinterpretation based on your knowledge of the 93% – 7% ratio.
- Don’t get angry from e-mail, then reply based on your anger. First find out the intent of the sender by calling or asking for clarification. Remember: nearly half of all e-mails are misinterpreted.
- Don’t use e-mail for emotional or sensitive topics. Pick up the phone or visit in person.
While all of the above information is very basic in nature, it is abused or ignored every hour of every day by most everyone. Think no? How do you explain 54% of all e-mail messages being misinterpreted! Don’t forget, you’re sending your e-mail to someone in order to communicate. Master the simple art of e-mailing and you will avoid disaster, soon be known and respected as a great communicator, and enjoy some peace of mind.
About Harry K. Jones
Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.