Got a Sensitive Issue? Skip the E-mail

Last Updated Aug 27, 2009 3:04 PM EDT

I watched an interesting BNET video by Edward Muzio this morning that discussed why e-mail starts fights. The premise: if communication is made up of tone, visual cues, and words, e-mail is a terrible medium for it.

Why? Because words, according to researchers, account for just 7 percent of any overall message. The remainder is tone and visual cues, which just don't come across in e-mail.

I wrote last week that you might not be as funny as you think in e-mail. But aside from humor falling flat, the real danger in using e-mail as a conveyance for your thoughts is that a misinterpretation of your message can lead to big trouble: hurt feelings, frustration, resentment, anger...all things that can damage your working or personal relationships.

What's the remedy? Simple. According to Muzio, you should save e-mail for factual communication only -- setting meetings, conveying data, and so on. When you get into sensitive or emotional context, deal with it in person (your best option) or over the phone.

That's a challenging proposition for a writer like me. I often believe I can say things better on paper than I can in person, so I'm more likely to send a long, well-crafted e-mail to deal with a problem than to pick up the phone. But Muzio's comments have me reconsidering that approach.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section. And take a look at the video to judge for yourself.

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.