E-mail is a convenient and useful communications medium. But, people overestimate their ability to effectively communicate through e-mail. Be careful when you use e-mail to be sure that the message can not be misinterpreted. Use the phone or personal contact when conveying sensitive information – or any information that could be misunderstood without the proper vocal and physical cues that a live conversation has.

Increasingly, business communications are through e-mail. And, often, tensions escalate as mis-cues and misunderstandings occur because of the use of email.

There are three main problems.

1. E-mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode meaning well.

2. The prospect of instantaneous communication creates a false urgency. This pressures e-mailers to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness.

3. You can’t develop a good personal rapport over e-mail. This makes relationships more fragile in the face of conflict.

“In effect, e-mail cannot adequately convey emotion. A recent study by Profs. Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago focused on how well sarcasm is detected in electronic messages. Their conclusion: Not only do e-mail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but e-mail recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings.”

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