If you only read one thing this week…

Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
May 12, 2006, 7:27 pm
Filed under: Articles, If you only have 15 mins

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article called "It's all about me: Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood", talking about the perils of email as a tool for long distance communication. Surprise surprise, email does not convey all of the emotional content of communication, and can lead to unnecessary hostility and misunderstanding.

The good news is that research shows that rapport creates a 'buffer of good regard', so that, if you know someone, even a little, you will be less likely to assume the worst.

In their research, even a single five to ten minute phone call, unrelated to the issues at hand (it was important that it was just an icebreaker) made sensitive negotiations over email more productive for both parties.

The message? Email is not enough. Even if you can't meet the person, a video conference, or phone call up front can pay dividends down the line. For the whole article, see



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Or as Thomas Davenport puts it in one of his 10 facts of information life:

“To make the most of electronic communications, employees must first learn to communicate face-to-face.”

This was validated for me in a project to deploy a world-wide business application, initially in Europe. In order to save on costs, the American and European team members engaged only via voice conferences and email. End result: escalating misunderstandings leading to project abortion.

Two years later, a second attempt: At project kick-off, similar team members met together at EU HQ for two weeks, including lots of social time. End result: f2f context for email led to fewer misunderstandings, quicker clarifications, and eventual successful deployment.

Comment by Peter Dickinson

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