Emails Can Be Fertile Ground for Misunderstanding & Conflict


Emails have become a valuable and indispensable part of our lives, both personally and at work.  We provide information, seek information and maintain a record of the email communications that we have had so that we can go back and remember those “conversations”.  Most of us don’t think much about the form of our emails, we just write and send them.  But have you ever received an email that made you angry, or made you feel disrespected?  I have had several conversations with people about this very issue over the past few weeks, so I thought it might be an issue that needs addressing.  I remember that when email first came on the scene it was viewed as an electronic version of a letter.  Formal business letters have a certain format including a salutation, a body and a closing.  Following this format was/is expected and as a result helped shape the individual and company image and simultaneously communicated respect to the person receiving the letter.  Emails have changed over the years and I think have taken more of a “text” or “message” format.  These latter formats are based on brevity and often include abbreviations and even acceptable “bad grammar”, and many times exclude the salutation and/or the closing.  People have come to expect that type of format in texts, but what about emails?  I think the answer to this question is that “it depends on who is communicating with whom about what”.  It goes without saying that if you have something to say to someone that has negative emotional content, don’t send it in an email, rather do it face-to-face or at least over the phone when face-to-face is impossible.  But even non-emotionally laden content can be misunderstood.  For me, the key is to always think about how the other person could interpret (or misinterpret) the message and always communicate with respect.  A salutation as simple as “Hi, Joe” or “Good Morning, Joe” can help to set the stage for a more positive reading of the content.  Likewise, clear communicative language in the message body even to the point of clarifying your intent can help to eliminate misinterpretation.  Obviously your relationship with the person receiving the email will guide the language and format that you use, but it never hurts to be polite, even with those with whom you have a good long-term relationship.  Also, when receiving an email, don’t be so quick to jump to negative interpretation of ambiguous content.  Give the person the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they did not intend to be disrespectful or otherwise negative and check it out before responding back with a short, curt email of your own that was intended to “get even”.  Emails can be a valuable, time saving tool unless they create misunderstanding and conflict that is unnecessary and counterproductive.  Take a moment to think about what you are writing in your email and then re-read what you have written before you hit send.  It could save you a lot of time and relationships if you do.