“Email Communication Is Not The Same As The Spoken Word”

Many of us communicate with each other and with our clients through email or text messages. Mostly this is good except there are some potential breakdowns in communication that can occur. 

We need to remember that any type of communication in order to be effective has three main parts: (1) sharing of a message by the sender, (2) receipt or reception of that message by the intended recipient, and (3) understanding or comprehension of the message by the recipient. Needless to say, an email can break down at any of these three critical stages and result in lack of communication.

We know from experience that sometimes emails get lost in cyberspace and never get delivered – improper email address, a typo error, or something unexplained. It’s amazing that the internet doesn’t know how to auto-correct a comma that it knows should be a period as in “dot com” or “dot net” instead of “comma com.” It certainly knows how to humorously (sometimes) or embarrassingly (other times) “correct” words that were not intended to be part of the message. Who would be sending a message to someone at (“@”) comma com rather than dot com? Obviously, no one, so the interent should treat this obvious typo for what it is and send the message on its way. Let the recipient determine if it’s valid or trash. By the way, why do the comma and the period (“dot’) appear side-by-side on the keyboard – and appear side-by-side but in reverse order on the iPhone keypad? No wonder we occasionally get it wrong.

Then, there’s the real biggie that occurs on the other end after the message has been sent – the second part of the communication trilogy. The recipient has to receive and open the message. How many times has someone (including us) claimed that a message never came when we mistakenly deleted it without opening it, didn’t recognize it and thus did not open it, or just didn’t open it because it got lost among all the other messages that came in that same morning or afternoon? Granted, messages sometimes get delayed and may take several minutes to a few hours to reach the intended inbox. Once-in-awhile, they don’t arrive at all for no apparent reason.

So, assuming that the message was sent successfully and then subsequently opened and read, we come to the third part of communication – the understanding or comprehension of the message.

Often, the message is straightforward and clear, such as “see you 3:00.” However, this can still leave some room for interpretation if the exact place of the meeting has not been clarified, if it varies due to rain or snow (since the meeting place was outdoors or in front of the building), or if the person sending or receiving the message is in a different time zone.

Humor, in its many forms, has a definite place in communication, but much of its impact is lost in email communication between people that don’t know each other very well. A phrase that can be misinterpreted or just not understood for its nuance can fall flat or actually seem inappropriate.

If we tell someone “good luck” or “good luck with that” before they go into an important meeting or appointment, they can usually tell by our tone of voice, rather than the words themselves, what we mean. We likely meant them well and indicated this in our brief message; however, we could have been sarcastic, insincere, or trying to display a sense of dry humor. The listener might know, but even here, it can’t always be discerned.

As tricky as it can be to understand the spoken word – often filtered or tempered by our mood, focus, and stress level at the moment we are hearing it – imagine how difficult it can be for the people communicating by email to understand each other. Should we stop email communication – is that the answer? No, but we need to read and re-read our message to see if there are multiple ways a phrase, comment, or message can be interpreted and rephrase as necessary. A witty line in person is one thing. In an email, it may not be understood in the manner intended.

Emails are a quick way to send or receive a message, but let’s be careful that we aren’t asking too much of them. It’s not the same as literally having a conversation.

Share with your friend and colleagues!