E-messages aren’t always clear

A friend who was living in Boston in the mid 1980s told me his job was getting computers to talk to each other. I couldn?t even fathom what he was doing until the Internet started taking off in the early to mid-1990s.

Those were certainly exciting times, and looking back, it?s hard to believe how quickly technology changed our lives, and the speed at which it keeps progressing.

Who would have thought the telegraph, telephone, radio and computer would set the stage for all this?

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but I have encountered some drawbacks when it comes to communicating via emails and texts. Without as many face-to-face conversations like we once had, there are times I?m not sure how to take messages I get.

For that matter, I wonder if some of the messages I send could be misinterpreted. Emoticons, as they are called, and other punctuation, can only go so far in letting someone know the ?mood? of an email or text.

Whenever I send messages, I try to let the person know what I want in a positive way. Or, if someone sends me a message or asks a question, I also try not to use one word to respond.

When I get a one-word message, sometimes it can come across as matter-of-fact, but it can also be terse, condescending or angry.

A case in point was an article in the Wall Street Journal. According to the article, a consultant sent a detailed project plan to a client by e-mail and received only a one-word response: ?Noted.? The consultant was afraid he had upset the client, when in actuality, the client was happy to have the issue cleared off his desk.

The article went on to offer tips on sending messages without seeming negative.

One way to avoid contrary communications is by choosing words that make the tone of a message more productive.

Even when there are times I want to let someone know I?m not happy about something, there are still ways to do it without ruining a relationship for a day, week or forever.

It seems like such a small thing, but if the person who sent the message about the project plan would have said ?thank you? rather than ?noted,? it probably would have not caused the recipient worry or concern about the job they did.

The more I looked into these email miscommunications, the more I realized I have made similar errors in judgment.

Some messages I have sent or received prompted me to believe someone was annoyed with me or thought I was being too harsh. Most of the time, I was surprised to find out that nobody was upset with me and vice-versa, but it took a telephone call to figure that out.

One of the articles I read said with all this new technology, we are all having trouble figuring out what is happening looking at our computer screens.

It makes a lot of sense that without people looking at each other to interpret their tone and facial expressions, we won?t get the emotional context that a voice over the telephone or meeting in-person offers.

Why am I not surprised, but a study was done about this. It found that people were able to interpret the tone and mood of an email only about half the time.

If that?s true, it means that people I talk with via email or text, instead of thinking I am happy all the time, are thinking that I am upset or irritated about half the time.

Yikes.

The study also found that even though people interpret the tone of an email correctly about 50 percent of the time, 90 percent believe they interpreted it correctly.

When I am writing an email to someone, I know what the tone in my head is intended to convey, but that?s not necessarily true of the person receiving it.

So what?s the answer?

Obviously, I won?t stop emailing, but maybe I should be aware of what I am writing before I send it off.

A few other tips that were offered by the American Writers & Artists Inc. included saying less, sticking to one topic, saving the pleasantries for the end, avoiding emoticons, putting myself in someone else?s shoes, and when all else fails, make a telephone call.

I agree with most of the tips, but giving up emoticons would be tough for me. 🙂

Sorry, couldn?t resist.

As with anything, one size doesn?t fit all and the same is true when emailing or even texting someone.

I am one of those who likes to articulate every point, but there are other people who want a synopsis.

For those who can remember the television series, ?Dragnet,? Sgt. Friday was a ?nothing but the facts? kind of guy. I am more like the ?Columbo? character: ?Just one more thing.?

Whatever type of person we are, communicating via computer screen has its ups and downs, but emails are here to stay and we just need to avoid having them, and our intended message, get lost in translation.