Dealing With E-Mails and Other Tone Deaf Communications

Sunday, 01 June 2014 17:03
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I find that it is often advisable to seek direct person-to-person clarification before reacting impulsively to potentially inflammatory electronic communications such as e-mails and texts.

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Dealing With E-Mails and Other Tone Deaf Communications

"Electronic communications can allow cognitive bias to more heavily influence our perceptions and jugments."

In today's connected world, we communicate more but directly interact much less. This can create greater potential for misunderstanding.
A high percentage of my business communications take the form of e-mail and text, instead of in-person. Further, it is easy to misinterpret messages transmitted electronically, as these lack the visual and vocal cues that help to communicate their intended meaning. We tend to process the messages according to whatever we are thinking at the time we read them, and not necessarily as the writer intended. Even the absence of a reply message when one is expected can create high stress and promote misconceptions!

A 2006 study showed that we only have a 50/50 chance of correctly understanding the intended tone of an e-mail message. In this same study, e-mail recipients felt that they correctly ascertained tone 90% of the time. Is it any wonder how flame wars get started?

Seek to understand before reacting impulsively.
In instances where there is a miscommunication, we each need to be able to readily answer the question:"what logical reason would explain why the individual wrote this?" If we can't, chances are that we've misinterpreted the situation and it would be wise for one of us to pick up the phone or to visit the other to seek clarification and to ensure mutual understanding. Doing so can diffuse situations before they create hurt feelings and become actual conflicts.

Cognitive bias can cause different people to vary in their interpretation of communicated information.
Cognitive bias can cause individuals in a group to reach different conclusions from listening to the same information. For instance, ask a passionate prospective Democratic or Republican voter for their perception of a Presidential candidate debate and invariably their report on "who won" will be distorted by their ingoing biases.

It is certainly understandable that cognitive bias can heighten the risk of misunderstanding when reading e-mails, especially those from individuals with whom we lack familiarity and trust.

In Conclusion.
To be clear, I'm not against electronic communications.
As I've mentioned, the vast majority of my business communications are via e-mail. However, recognizing that overreliance upon e-mail carries risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation, I make a point of seeking regular and direct interpersonal communications with others as a sensible "reality check". Something to consider, if you aren't already doing so.

Since 2005, BFS Innovations has helped its Fortune 500 clients with technology scouting, new business creation and development services. Contact Michael today at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 614 937-2408 to discuss your company's needs.


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