Research from NYU Stern Professor Justin Kruger shows that where email is concerned, there is frequently a wide divide between what the sender of a message intends and how the content of that message is perceived by the receiver. Says Kruger: “Overestimating the obviousness of one’s intentions can lead to insufficient allowances for ambiguities in communication—with occasionally destructive results.”
Problems arise because emails can’t convey body language, facial expressions, or vocal tone. In personal emails we might counterbalance this “flatness” with emoticons (i.e. smiley or sad faces), or acronyms like JK (just kidding). But these are often not business appropriate. Then there’s the problem of CAPITAL LETTERS, which a sender might use to suggest IMPORTANCE, but which receivers usually interpret as YELLING.
What to do? Be mindful in the workplace. Reread what you wrote before pressing send. If you think your email message might be at all ambiguous, take the time to insert a clarifying line or pick up the phone instead. Goldman Sachs and Farmers insurance are among the many companies teaching the value of pausing and paying attention when communicating at work rather than racing through the day on autopilot. This focus on conscious communication is what we have been advocating for decades.
Please share your experience: Have you ever had an email misunderstanding that could have been avoided? What happened when you reconsidered before sending your emails? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.