Unless you have completely sworn off the use of any technology, you most likely have used email to communicate with someone at some point in time. And if you use it often, you’ve probably experienced a few instances where your message was misunderstood, or you became frustrated by a message sent to you. Email can be a fickle communication tool, something that some say has a “Jekyll and Hyde” quality to it.
What makes email unique is not the ease or the speed at which it allows people to communicate; its uniqueness comes from the fact that sometimes, its pros and cons are identical. For instance, while email does allows us to communicate in a less formal tone, that very tone can result in grammatical errors and an overall “letting go” of the communication skills we learned in school.
Not only that, but email allow us to communicate asynchronously, which simply means that email conversations don’t occur in real time like verbal conversations do, allowing all parties involved the opportunity to put some thought into their message before they send it.
But in today’s fast-paced world, our computer’s settings remind us with beeps and bells that an email has arrived, and we feel compelled to answer it quickly instead of taking advantage of the ‘think before you send’ opportunity that it affords us. This can result in speedy replies which, if responding to a message that we find upsetting, can contain much emotion and strong opinions that can end up causing more trouble than any damage control solution can adequately contain.
In a verbal conversation, humans can get more clues as to how the other person is feeling by detecting and responding to their body language. While most of us can control our emotions, much that happens with body language is subtle and cannot always be controlled. But it is always present.
Email conversations, as we well know, are completely different. Attempting to characterize emotion by using text phrases alone leaves much room for the meaning behind the message to be misinterpreted. And worse, a message can be interpreted in several different ways by different people.
This is largely due in part to the cognitive science behind our emotions. Among the many factors which influence how we interpret an email message are our life experiences which have shaped our understanding of language and how we learned how to express or hide our emotions.
It is ironic, then, that a tool such as email whose sole purpose is to allow communication, lacks the very ingredients necessary to make that communication effective; emotional indicators such as body language and the intonation of one’s voice.
Emoticons are visual representations of our emotions. They can be key combinations we type ourselves, or graphical representations of emotions, such as some chat programs which offer their users a selection of small graphics that can be added to messages. Indeed, one could include a hundred of them in an email message so as not to be misinterpreted. Unfortunately, this is more often than not the ideal, and not the actual scenario.
Emoticons also have their own ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ quality, as they can be used to convey sarcasm as well as a person’s true feelings. So how, then, can we ensure that our email messages are always interpreted in our desired manner? The truth is, this can’t be the case 100% of the time.
Guidelines for Effective Email Communication
Really, the only thing we can do is try and ensure that we’ve done the following before sending an email:
- Wait – waiting allows us to think about the message we are sending before it’s too late;
- Proofread – proofreading can help pick out any language that may be interpreted as inflammatory by a recipient, and it can also be done by a third party to gain more insight into potential interpretation;
- Be clear and concise; longer paragraphs can mean more room for misinterpretation, and less of a chance the entire message will be read;
- Talk in real time; if there’s a good chance misinterpretation will occur as a result of an email, talking to the recipient via internet chat or the telephone can provide the needed clues to how they really feel about a certain subject.
Guest author Elizabeth Brosuga works virtually, and has a lot of experience dealing with technological issues in order to effectively conduct business online. She recommends www.highspeed-internet-providers.com for information on how to install a broadband connections.