April 14th, 2011 4:00 PM by Eileen Denhard
Ever sent an email that got a frosty response you weren't expecting? Ever received an email and thought "What a jerk"? Think you are generally good at interpreting the tone of an email? Well according to research conducted by the Universities of Chicago and New York, you only have a 50-50 chance of reading the emotional tone of an email correctly. "I'm not that bad" I hear you say- well think again. In the same study 90% of respondents thought they could read the emotional tone of an email well too, when in fact they stood no better chance than if they flipped a coin.To ensure the maintenance of good relationships with friends, family, colleagues and clients, sending emails with an unambiguous tone and reading received emails carefully is key. After all, emails are often interpreted more negatively than they were intended.To help you navigate the minefield of email interpretation, here are some Misinterpretation Minefield Avoidance Techniques: 1. Be clearWhen sending mail, If you are annoyed, say you are. If you are pleased, say you are. Hints, subliminal messages and worst of all sarcasm only lead to ambiguity. If you are annoyed and want someone's behaviour to change then you can't merely hope that they will 'get' the underlying message. Chances are they won't and so nothing will change. If you want to praise someone then also be clear. Those people that would benefit most from praise are generally the ones that will miss the fact that you are pleased with them due to a poor self image. 2. Use 'reply' with cautionDO NOT bash out a response to a 'negative' email and hit send without giving yourself time to think. Ask yourself the questions: Was the email I received actually negative? Could you read the email you have been sent in a different way? If you are still unclear, then reply and ask for clarity in an emotionally neutral manner. Use statements like, "In your previous email I sensed that you were unhappy with ....... " or "I may have got the wrong end of the stick but I sensed that you". This gives the original sender the opportunity to backtrack if they themselves sent a hasty 'angry' email that they now regret, or to clarify their feelings so that the issue can be resolved. Open and honest communication is key. 3. Consider what you knowIf you are unsure of the tone of an email, focus on what you know, and you may well find the answer there. Before replying to an email you assess to be negative, consider your own state of mind. Did you get out of bed the wrong side? Chances are then that you will interpret emails more negatively than intended and you will also send out emails yourself that are more gruff than usual.Also consider this when receiving emails from others. If you know they are having a bad day then you should take this into account when reading their mails- any perceived anger may well not actually be directed at you but at the coffee machine that for the third time has forgotten to put any coffee in their coffee and the 'impossible to please' client they have just spent half an hour on the phone to. In which case, instead of firing off a gruff email back, acknowledge they are having a tough time and make an effort to be upbeat in your response. They will really thank you for this. Afterall, nobody likes to be in a stinker of a mood all day. 4. Use emoticons sparingly While research has shown that emoticons can help to compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues in emails, sending an email that has an explosion of smileys, sarcastic winks and frowns makes it look like you have not progressed beyond your school days. If you want to express yourself in facial shorthand, reserve this for emails where professionalism is not key. Your best friend might find an appropriate sarcastic wink amusing, but it is unlikely that your client will.Was that clear? I hope so. In case you were wondering, this was written in a spirit of helpfulness by Tonsho, specialists in sending large email attachments up to 5Gb.
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