Intent and meaning can easily be lost in email. For example, we don’t have eye contact, tone of voice, or body language, which we rely on in the offline world to determine meaning and intent.
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, reread them, and still may not be sure.
So I ask.
Others have sent me emails asking me what I thought the sender meant. In some cases, I didn’t have the same take or reaction. However, regarding one particular email, I had the opposite perception of the upset person.
Why is that? The answer is I had no personal history with the sender. So I wasn’t reading anything into the email that wasn’t there.
Established Relationships vs. Strangers
In this particular case, they thought the sender was rude. But I 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 try not to imagine what someone means. Instead, 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 your feelings or what you “think” the other person meant. If you do not know them well, asking for clarification before reacting is best.
On the other hand, if you know them very well, it’s probably time for an in-person meeting or phone call to work through any concerns. Take the necessary steps to not rely on assumptions.
If the topic is emotional — wait until the next day to allow cooler heads to prevail.
Meaning vs. Assumptions
Making assumptions are the basis for a good portion of misunderstandings and failing business relationships. What you read into another person’s email is often not “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. Regarding business email communications, “I didn’t mean it that way!” does not apply. Type your email, reread it, and read it out loud to be sure.
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 the words you choose and how you use them.
Take the time to choose your words carefully, use complete sentences – don’t type in cryptic thoughts. By using proper grammar, you will help avoid being misunderstood.
You can help avoid misunderstandings by choosing your words carefully and using an 😉 or “LOL” where appropriate to set the tone. I’m not a fan of emoticons in business emails, 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. Therefore, regardless of our profession or educational background, we must 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 ensure that your emails are clear and concise. But, on the other hand, if you put effort into your writing and vocabulary skills, as I do each day, you can avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings, be perceived favorably, and definitely have the edge over your competitors.