I send a lot of e-mails and this observation in research conducted by Kristin Byron (as reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) fascinates me.

Regardless of the sender’s intention, the recipient of an e-mail interprets it pretty differently.

If the sender thinks its positive, the receiver feels its neutral.

If the sender thinks its neutral, the receiver feels its negative.

Oh wow. Really?

Have you ever reread an e-mail before you decided to send it? Or set it aside for some time to look at it again later?

It turns out that this is even more important than we may have realized.

Why? Because e-mails, although quick and convenient, increase the chances of miscommunication … and therefore conflict.

Computer screens are devoid of information about emotions – information that we can easily pick up from face-to-face interactions, even if we don’t realize it. Things like tone of voice, facial expressions and body language are lost in the cold glare of the light shining at you when you read an e-mail.

Jokes aren’t even as funny to the recipient as they were to the person who hit “send.”

Fortunately, the more familiar the sender and receiver are with each other, the less problems there are likely to be.  So, even if you work with someone far away – getting together now and then can help to improve e-mail communications down the road.

And, if you are just down the hall or in the same building, consider the benefits of visiting a colleague’s work space to relay your message. Because as the overall volume of e-mail goes up, the volume of other communications goes down … in particular, everyday friendly greetings.

Saying “good morning” or “hi” is what’s called “social glue.” It strengthens our relational ties with each other.  So, at the very least, add these to your e-mails … but even better, stop by in person.


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