Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Email Communication Requires A Little More Thought Than What It Might Seem"

Today, email is a very common - some would argue, preferred - method of communicating with others. We have become so accustomed to communicating with friends, loved ones, acquaintances, clients, and sales leads by using email that nearly everyone uses it in some form - even if they aren't the initiator of the message but just responding to one they received from someone else.

Emails can be tricky, however, and we have to be very careful how we express a phrase. We might know what we mean. We might even hear ourselves saying it as we write it. However, the person reading it may "hear" it an entirely different way.

This is a significant way that emails are different than an actual conversation that we might have with someone. There, we can hear the intonation of someone's voice and ascribe feelings into what they are saying. We can hear emotion, power, fear, doubt, surprise, and other expressions. We can hear humor or anger - even sarcasm.

This is much harder to distinguish in a written communication, such as email - particularly when we may not know the person we are writing to all that well. They may not understand our speech patterns, our sense of humor, our way with a phrase, and our mannerisms. Therefore, we have to look at what we are saying from the receiver's perspective and ask ourselves how we think they will interpret what we are saying and if it will mean what we intend for it to. 

Take the two words "hard" and "drive," for instance We can say that we had a hard drive home last night in the rain. We aren't talking about the storage device in our computer. Maybe "hard drive" is not the best choice of words for our commute. While the meaning is clear to us, it could as easily form a picture of the storage device to the person reading it.

The meaning of a word that we often use as a one-word answer to a question is much easier to interpret when we say and hear it than it is when we read it. There may not be implied emotion that can be discerned from the context or the adjacent content, and the reader is subject to their own interpretation as they apply their own particular set of filters. What we meant in one sense could be read and understood in an entirely different way.

Something as simple as replying "Sure" to a question we are asked can have several different - and quite varied meanings. Thus, we need to make sure that our meaning is clear from the text surrounding what we are saying, or we need to choose a different word or phrase if we aren't positive how they may interpret it.

For instance, someone asks us is we can we do something. We answer "Sure" (affirmation, confirmation, certainty, or assurance). However, we might be thinking "Sure" as in we can reluctantly or if we have to. "Sure" could mean that we'd rather not and hope that they sense our hesitation. "Sure" can also mean "not really," "don't count on it," or "are you kidding?"

Let's take the time to think about what we are saying in an email - even if it is a very short response. Let's think about what we want to say, write it, read it, make as certain as we can that it says what we intend, and that there are few ways to misconstrue its meaning. Then we can send it. When words are clearly understood or transmitted without any chance of misinterpretation, communication has occurred.


Steve HoffackerCAPS, MCSP, MIRM, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit or call 561-685-5555.