- The Find: Research reveals that readers can correctly identify the tone of an email only about half the time; with the likelihood of misunderstanding so high, careful consideration is needed before you hit the send button.
- The Source: A recent article in Psychology Today.
And there's the trouble according to Nicholas Epley, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business,
People just have a tough time detaching themselves from their own perspective and imagining how their statements could be "heard" differently. The fact that we're usually very good at making ourselves understood is also what trips us up in the email domain. "We're all so adept at processing nonverbal cues that we do it without thought, in a happy-go-lucky way." So much so, that we often don't recognize ambiguous meanings, like in that dashed-off email that could be read two different ways.
So how can you combat your email hubris? Basic caution goes a long way. "Re-reading an email can reveal potential problems," Epley says. "Better still, read it aloud and listen closely for ambiguity." For important emails, Epley suggests walking away from the computer and coming back later with fresh eyes.
Still nervous about your command of tone? Eudora has recently added a feature that detects strings of words with the potential to offend called "Mood Watch." The program alerts users by displaying chili pepper icons. The more chilis displayed, the spicier the email. Handle those with the potential to burn with caution and be aware that even the program isn't perfect at picking up what's likely to offend.
The Question: Anyone brave enough to share an email catastrophe caused by a misunderstood tone?