Billions of emails are sent around the globe each day but are their true meanings getting across? Maybe not.
Although emails are quick and easy to send, their lack of facial cues, body language and emotional feedback mean they can be easily misinterpreted.
Kristin Byron, of the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in New York, believes that many email users could be sending and getting mixed messages in emails.
“A first step toward improving accuracy in emails is to recognize the possibility that we are fallible as both email senders and receivers,” said Byron who is an assistant professor of management at the university.
“People make the assumption that emails are very clear but that is just not the case. There are a lot of misunderstandings,” she added in an interview.
One of the main points of confusion is that people forget that emotions can be communicated in email. While facial expressions can be easy to read, there aren’t the same clear signals in emails.
Misinterpreted emails could be a particular minefield in the workplace with co-workers perceiving emotional content in the email that may not be intended.
Emotions can be expressed in emails through punctuation marks and other techniques but that can confuse the message even more, according to Byron who will report her findings in the journal Academy of Management Review.
“The use of exclamation points, asterisks, or capital letters, the length of the message, even the use of emoticons all can be used or perceived to communicate emotion. Yet these are ambiguous in email communication — and are often discouraged from use in the workplace — and therefore may be misinterpreted,” she said.
Emoticons are symbols such as smiling faces or characters on keyboards used in emails to show emotion.
To improve email communication and lower the risk of sending the wrong signals Byron suggests email users express themselves clearly and repeat important information they want to convey.
Companies might also consider offering training in the use of emails at work.
“With the increasing reliance on emails in the workplace, understanding how to effectively communicate emotions by email is crucial,” Byron added.
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