How Effective Are Your E-mail Communications?

Tuesday, 05 July 2011 06:30
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E-mail is a tremendous tool that enables people to communicate anytime, anywhere a wireless/internet connection exists. Its convenience can often cause us to choose it as a preferred means of communicating, in place of traditional interactions. That's where problems can occur, researchers find.

Daniel Enemark, in a column written for Christian Science Monitor, discussed academic research conducted to study the benefits and pitfalls of e-mail communications. He cited work done by professors Morris and Lowenstein to study e-mail and other computer-based interactions for clarity of communication. The professors concluded that these methods are powerful, but can contribute to 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."

Do I doubt any of this is true? Not at all. I can vividly recall an exchange from years ago. I was working as Director of Marketing for a cable television company. A colleague (whom I disliked intensely) had sent me an email message which included sarcasm. Because of the strong negative feelings that I had built up about him, I was unable (or unwilling) to decode his message as he had intended it. Instead of discerning his intended his meaning, I interpreted it instead as a personal attack. This prompted me to walk down the hall and blow up at him! While he didn't expect my emotional reaction to his e-mail, in re-reading it, he also understood how it could have been misinterpreted.   

We should always strive to create relationships and to build rapport using traditional interpersonal communication techniques (in-person conversation, phone calls), and use e-mail as a means of bridging these exchanges. While it is often tempting to just "fire off an e-mail", first make certain that it is appropriate for the communication purpose that you intend. Also, be sure that the message is clear and unambiguous, to prevent misinterpretation and possible resulting damage control.  

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