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Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood2006-05-28 23:21
22 comments
by Flemming Funch

Article here about some people studying e-mail communication, and how it can go wrong.
Though e-mail is a powerful and convenient medium, researchers have identified three major problems. First and foremost, e-mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode meaning well. Second, the prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures e-mailers to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships 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.

One reason for this, the business-school professors say, is that people are egocentric. They assume others experience stimuli the same way they do. Also, e-mail lacks body language, tone of voice, and other cues - making it difficult to interpret emotion.

"A typical e-mail has this feature of seeming like face-to-face communication," Professor Epley says. "It's informal and it's rapid, so you assume you're getting the same paralinguistic cues you get from spoken communication."

To avoid miscommunication, e-mailers need to look at what they write from the recipient's perspective, Epley says. One strategy: Read it aloud in the opposite way you intend, whether serious or sarcastic. If it makes sense either way, revise. Or, don't rely so heavily on e-mail. Because e-mails can be ambiguous, "criticism, subtle intentions, emotions are better carried over the phone," he says.



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22 comments

29 May 2006 @ 02:35 by Ge Zi @24.127.146.37 : emoticons
I guess this is why we invented the emoticons, right?  


29 May 2006 @ 09:24 by jazzolog : :-)
They help a bit...but sometimes we say we're kidding and we're not. Hello Chatrooms. By extension we might posit these factors as reasons NCN has such a history of difficulty. Not so much the misunderstandings...but the element of egocentricity. When I go to work or talk over a problem with a loved one, I am prepared to sacrifice and compromise. When I turn on the TV or the stereo, I want stuff to happen for ME. Which is it when I come to the computer...and log in at NCN?  


29 May 2006 @ 11:20 by ming : chat :-D
I suppose one might still be able to compromise, but within a much more narrow focus than in the regular world. I.e. one chooses a particular set of lenses in online communication, or one might have to accept the technical limitation, and if there's really only one channel, we might have difficulty really understanding each other. In the real world we have more channels, so it is more wholistic, I suppose. So, somebody like jazzolog here, if I met him face-to-face, I have little doubt that we'd get along fine, but in online communication we tend to find each other a bit irritating. ... I think that's because jazzolog is ego-centered and I'm not. ;-)  


29 May 2006 @ 12:44 by Istvan @68.105.165.151 : zenplanet@fastmail.us
Finally the BIGGIE,the truth of all truths, perhaps signalling the dawn of a new civilsation. If we can just remember it and learn to work with it.
" the business-school professors say, is that people are egocentric".

Oh My...how profound.  



20 Jun 2006 @ 11:32 by rayon : Not just email
make for misunderstandings, but also nationalities and backgrounds. I have been stunned by the number of quite abject misunderstandings created by my own words, any explanations of which muliply exponentially the comprehension gaps. There is something else too - Gender - dare I say, next to this, one step up, is single gender or partnered gender, and secretly partnered gender posing as former. Of the F gender one can be Ist or Ine, to be loyal to the latter, one has to back down, tell a lie of sorts, in order to stay standing up and keep the chat just going, wondering all the time if it is worth it.

Anyway, in Ine form, it is almost impossible to win without body language against M gender, partnered or secretly, not that winning is the point, rather a pot contribution, and the M's have just got to have it all the time.

Some are very careful, I have seen with long worded thoughts keen to avoid each pothole of misunderstanding aforethought, but then going such a wordy distance becomes wearying even to the most robustly hearted Ine's like me.  



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