Meaning can easily be lost in email. We don’t have eye-contact or body language, the things we rely on in the off-line world to determine intent or tone.
Who hasn’t received a business email where you had the dilemma of trying to interpret what someone “meant”? I’ve lost count of the number of emails I have received that caused me to think “what exactly do they mean?” I read them out loud, read them again and still may not be sure.
So I ask.
Others have sent me emails asking me what I thought the Sender meant. In many cases, I didn’t have the same take or reaction. In regard to one particular email, I had proportionally the opposite perception than that of the person who was upset! Why is that? I had no personal history with the Sender.
Established Relationships vs. Strangers
In this particular case, they thought the Sender was rude. But I really didn’t perceive what was typed as a rude comment at all! As a matter of fact, it was a very generalized comment and the recipient chose to take it personally. Because I was not emotionally involved or didn’t know the other party well enough to “read in between the lines”, I had an entirely different reaction.
We all know what happens when you assume? (Follow that link, then come back.) With email, we have to make the effort to not assume what someone means. We must take care to look at the words used and the meaning of those words.
Particularly with business email, you cannot risk reading more into what is there based on either your feelings or what you “think” the other person meant. If you do not know them well, it is best to ask for clarification before reacting. On the other hand if you do know them very well, then it’s probably time for an in-person meeting or phone call to work through any concerns.
Meaning vs. Assumptions
Making assumptions are the basis for a good portion of misunderstandings and failing business relationships. Many times what you read into another person’s email is not at all “what they meant.” Yes, they probably were not clear enough — a lesson for them to learn. But that still is not a reason to jump to any conclusions.
On the other hand, if you type it; you had better mean it! When it comes to business email communications, “I didn’t mean it that way!” simply does not apply. Business communications require that you think about how you phrase things. Including compensating for the proper tone. You have the responsibility to make darned sure that what you “really mean” is what you relay by virtue of the words you choose and how you use them.
Take the time to choose your words carefully, use full sentences – don’t type in cryptic thoughts. By practicing proper grammar you will help avoid being misunderstood. You can help avoid misunderstandings by choosing your words very carefully, and by using an ;), or “LOL” where appropriate to set the tone. I’m not a fan of emoticons in business email, but there are situations where they can be helpful.
Time to Sharpen Your Writing Skills
Due to technology, email has become a primary business communication channel. Each of us, regardless of our profession or educational background, needs to continually improve our writing skills to benefit our email communications.
You cannot assume you will be understood if you do not take the time to make sure that your emails are clear and concise. If you put effort into your writing and vocabulary skills, as I do each and every day, you can avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings, be perceived favorably and will definitely have an edge over your perceived competitors!