There’s a Message in Every Email

From the journals.

You're plowing through your inbox on your BlackBerry, firing off emails on the fly, with little thought—or intention—behind phrasing and punctuation choices. But those emails are often misinterpreted by the recipient, leading to confusion and miscommunication between colleagues, according to a paper recently accepted by the Academy of Management Review for publication in January 2008.

Syracuse professor Kristin Byron, inspired by the ways that we try to make sense of what people say to us, has undertaken to study people's perceptions of "nonverbal cues" in email, which pretty much covers all aspects of the form. "People perceive emails as more negative than they are intended to be," she says, "and even emails that are intended to be positive can be misinterpreted as more neutral. You get an email that's really short, with no greeting, no closing; it's probably because they were very rushed, or maybe they're not very good typists. But because of those things, people have a tendency to perceive the message as negative."

Although certain factors, such as the use of correct capitalization and even emoticons, can positively affect the recipients' opinion of the sender, people's perceptions of nonverbal cues are consistently inconsistent. So the best solution isn't necessarily better emails, but fewer emails. Before you shoot off another missive, consider the face-to-face meeting or phone call first.

Source: "Carrying Too Heavy a Load? The Communication and Miscommunication of Emotion by Email," Kristin Byron, Academy of Management Review.

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