Communicating through email can be difficult (part one)
By: Hillary Spear, Client Communications Manager
I stink at proofing my own writing; I always have and probably always will. What do I do to fix this? I have an amazing process that works almost flawlessly. My process even has a name – Chris and Ben. For those of you who don’t know, Chris and Ben are our employees that have a grammar superpower.
My normal process is to write something, rewrite it, rewrite it again, rewrite it again… and then send it to be proofed. No matter how many times I read something, they will most likely still find some grammar to correct.
Now that we are working remotely, it makes communication a bit more difficult. This has me wondering if we are nicer in person than in email?
Recently, I had an important email to send out to our clients. I had it proof-read, but I accidentally sent out the second to last version. Needless to say, one of our superpower grammar experts noticed it and sent me an email. The email was meant to be helpful but was misinterpreted by me as being overly harsh. With everyone on edge right now, the email exchange turned a little heated before we both realized what was going on. We apologized and moved forward together.
Had we been in the office together, would that interaction even happened? Probably not.
In person, we would’ve been much nicer to each other. Does that mean that in email our true feelings come out, or are we misinterpreting what people are saying?
I think it is mostly misinterpretation.
Communication is over 80% non-verbal. Email leaves you unable to hear someone’s tone, see their face, or catch any nonverbal clues at all.
For example, if I say “I went to the store today” it could be a million different things depending on the tone of your voice:
Sarcastic: I went to the store today because you didn’t, even though I’ve been asking all week.
Excited: This was the highlight of my day and I wanted to share it with you
Sullen: I really didn’t want to go but I had to so I’m just telling you
Angry: I can’t believe I had to go to the store today what an inconvenience
Secretive: I went to the store and picked up that thing we were talking about, but we wanted to keep a secret.
How does that differ when we write? It doesn’t. The words are exactly the same in each of those scenarios. The tone that is in our head doesn’t get conveyed. Why? Because the tone in the writer’s head might not match the tone in the readers head.
Is there a way to fix this? If we try to remember to use words that help to convey tone, it will help communication greatly.
For example, if I want to tell a co-worker that there is an error in an equation, I could send an email that says “Judy, cell B4 has an error.” Alternatively, I could send an email that says “By the way Judy, I noticed cell B4 doesn’t look quite right, can you call me to discuss it when you have a chance?”
That might sound like I am “babying” the person, but I see it very differently. We are now living in a short-term age of working remotely with little human interaction. Erring on the side of kindness gives us a chance to build relationships, instead of pushing away the small amount of human interaction that has become the short-term norm.