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David Baxter

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Avoid Email Miscommunication
October 7, 2007

The tone of an email is incredibly easy to misinterpret, explains emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, writing in the New York Times. The main problem is there is no channel to convey our emotion - other than emoticons which are notoriously crude.

We've all done it: written something that's meant to be a joke in an email and then received a cold response when the message is misunderstood. Or received an email we can't make head nor tail of. Is this a joke or are they being serious?

Causes of miscommunication
Common email misperceptions include:

  • Positive emails are reinterpreted as neutral while neutral emails become negative.
  • Recipients rate jokes as less funny than the person who sent them.
  • Emailers overestimate how effectively they can communicate feelings.
  • Recipients also overestimate how well they can understand feelings.
  • Small initial differences between email correspondents can easily grow, sometimes causing the breakdown of relationships.
The cause of these misperceptions is the gap between how we feel when we are writing and the ambiguous meaning of the actual words on the screen. As we are writing we 'hear' the emotional content of an email, but forget there's no way to telepathically send this emotional content to the recipient. Researchers suggest we do this because people are naturally egocentric, we assume that others understand how we are feeling when often they don't.

Avoiding miscommunication
The solutions are pretty simple, but that doesn't make them any less important:

  • We're less likely to misunderstand someone we know well. If you need to be on someone's wavelength, get to know them face-to-face or on the phone. This can create a buffer of good feeling, then email exchanges will be smoother.
  • Think about emails from the recipients perspective.
  • Take time to write an effective email. Because of the medium it's easy to knock out short messages that can be interpreted as rude.
Is email dying?
Perhaps these problems will soon be a thing of the past as younger generations adopt newer communication technologies. US studies of teen internet habits :)acrobat: 468K) are starting to show a clear preference for instant messaging and text messaging. The bad news is that many youngsters see email as 'for old people'.

Of course reports of email's demise are seriously mistaken. But it's useful to remember that when emailing anyone under the age of 25, there's a good chance of a catastrophic communication failure - they might simply never read it.
 

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David Baxter

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Perhaps these problems will soon be a thing of the past as younger generations adopt newer communication technologies. US studies of teen internet habits are starting to show a clear preference for instant messaging and text messaging.

I don't get this point. With instant messaging and/or text messaging, messages tend to be even more abbreviated. Shouldn't that make miscommunication even MORE likely, not less? How would that make "these problems... a thing of the past"?
 

Halo

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I think now with instant messaging and texting there are more abbreviations used and more people are getting to the point of their message instead of using useless "filler" words that may complicate what the point of the actual message is. Also with more things like LOL, ROFL, and the like being used in text messages there is a lot less chance of an instant message being take out of context. Just my thoughts.
 

David Baxter

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But it's precisely those "useless 'filler' words" that clarify one's meaning.

In my experience, couples are more likely to misinterpret emails and MSN messaging than voice communication. And the more one abbreviates the message, the more susceptible it becomes to misnterpretation.
 

Halo

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Obviously voice communication is best because then you get to see, hear and understand what the other person is really meaning and saying but when face to face communication is not taking place then I think that texting gets to the point of the message faster and more direct than an email does. In an email there can be so many "other" meanings for the way things are worded. With texting, space is limited and needing to just get to the point is the main objective. No filler words needed or to be misinterpreted. Maybe for some the "useless filler" words help to clarify the meaning but they are the ones that can also cause the misinterpretations.
 

Retired

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Is email dying?
Perhaps these problems will soon be a thing of the past as younger generations adopt newer communication technologies. US studies of teen internet habits are starting to show a clear preference for instant messaging and text messaging.

What appears to be dying is the corect use of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Despite the availability of spell checkers, fractured language and convoluted syntax are common internet commuication infractions.

Is Grammar still taught in schools?
 

Bones

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I don't like the idea that emails may stop being used, if that does happen. I have always liked using emails because people can't completely read what your thinking or feeling. :rolleyes:
Not that I have anything bad to hide, just that my emotions are private to most people.

What appears to be dying is the corect use of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Despite the availability of spell checkers, fractured language and convoluted syntax are common internet commuication infractions.

Is Grammar still taught in schools?

So I wonder how are the next generation of writers, research paper writers, and others will turn out... :eek:
 

gooblax

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What appears to be dying is the corect use of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Despite the availability of spell checkers, fractured language and convoluted syntax are common internet commuication infractions.

Is Grammar still taught in schools?
So I wonder how are the next generation of writers, research paper writers, and others will turn out... :eek:
No need to worry, some of us remain adherent to some form of acceptable standard of English. :)

I must say that I dislike abbreviated written language, but occasionally find it to be appropriate. However, wh3n ppl Typ lyk diss [when people type like this] within emails or general internet communication, excluding in-game chat and perhaps instant messaging, one seriously finds themselves wondering whether the time taken to communicate was actually reduced at all. After becoming proficient in 1337speak, it could possibly be faster to type in that manner, but time required for translation surely reduces its effectiveness. (Would I be correct in my assumption that the majority of people making such abbreviations are doing so for the 'time benefit' rather than as jokes among the computer-literate, experienced, "elite"?)

My preference, in the majority of circumstances, is the good old sentence - perhaps that's why some of my friends describe me as peculiar. ;)
 

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