Misinterpreted: Are Your Emails Sending The Wrong Message?


We all make the mistake of hitting “send” before proof-reading emails and we assume the recipients have a complete understanding of the tone and content of our emails.  A Study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports that the tone in an email is misinterpreted 50 percent of the time; no one wants their emails being misinterpreted, especially if the recipient is a client or potential client.  Furthermore, the same study found that 90 percent of people think they’ve correctly interpreted the tone of emails they receive, making for a serious gap in communication.  Many people try to convey a message through email the same way they would verbally, but the way you’re verbalizing a statement could be interpreted completely different through an email.

As crazy as it seems, since we only have a 50/50 chance of our emails being written and interpreted correctly, we should try to be as clear and concise as possible.  Christina Gillick contributed an article in Wealthy Web Writer where she provided seven ways to ensure your emails are aren’t misread:

1. Take your time.

It’s safe to say we’re all in a rush these days. That’s why it’s not surprising many of us send emails without thinking them through.

Taking a few moments before hitting the “Send” button to double-check the email message and make sure that it can’t be taken the wrong way can help avoid a lot of headaches.

If you don’t have time to think about what you want to say, and how you want to say it, save your email as a draft and come back to it later.

2. Say less.

Writing brief emails lowers the chance of having your email misinterpreted because there are fewer things to say wrong or for your reader to take the wrong way.

Remember, it’s easier on you to read shorter emails as well and by keeping your messages short, you encourage the reader to respond with a short email.

3. Stick to one topic.

If your emails are long, it’s probably because you’re trying to cover more than one thing at a time. This leads to confusion, unanswered questions, missed steps, frustration, and email misinterpretation.

One of the easiest ways to say less — and to get your question answered quickly — is to stick to one topic. There will be less to misunderstand and your reader can quickly get to the point.

4. Don’t start with pleasantries.

When you start with pleasantries, it comes across as a ploy to get what you want. But, when the kind words come after the request, they seem more genuine because they don’t seem like part of your agenda.

For example, instead of saying, “Dear Becky, I loved your article today. It was great! Please read the attached web copy and give me your feedback.”

You should say, “Dear Becky, Please read the attached web copy and give me your feedback. By the way, I loved your article today. It was great!”

5. Avoid Emoticons.

Studies show we misinterpret positive emails as more neutral than the sender intended. We also misinterpret neutral emails as more negative. Sadly, jokes are rated less funny by readers than senders.

If you write something you think might be offensive to the email recipient, adding a winky face doesn’t make it okay. And, if a comment requires a smiley face to be understood, then it’s probably best to eliminate or rephrase it.

6. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s a good idea to re-read your emails and consider how the other person will feel. It can be difficult because the reader will interpret it based on their mood and expectations, but consider if there is a way your email could be misunderstood? If so, you might want to rewrite it until there is only one clear meaning.

I’ve received quite a few emails where people use ellipses (the three dots) incorrectly. They might say, “Thank you …” But because I agree with the Wikipedia description, “ellipses can be used to indicate an unfinished thought,” I feel like these emails are saying, “Thank you, but …” or “Thank you for nothing.”

7. When all else fails, make a phone call.

It might be faster and better to call if you don’t have enough time to type a thorough email and read it twice before clicking “Send.”

If you’re concerned your email might be misunderstood, or if you’re struggling with what you want to actually say, pick up the phone. You can talk it out and both reach an understanding. This works best with touchy subjects or if you’re already in a confusing conversation.

Conveying a message how you want it to be perceived through email amazingly, can be a very daunting task.  Acquiring a better understanding of how your emails should be written is necessary so there is no miscommunication and it might actually save you in making a mistake down the road.  No one wants to be known as the one who lost a top client because of a poorly written email, so make sure that you’re in the 50 percentile of individuals who knows how to explain in an email what you actually mean.

About TRC Staffing Services, Inc.

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