Just Google Email etiquette and you will get loads and loads of articles on what to do (and what not to do) while writing emails, how to make sure that you convey the right “tone” and “intent”, how to avoid misunderstandings and confusions, etc. etc.
There is even a product which conducts a “emotional spellcheck” on the emails, and claims to ensure that the tone is appropriate and reduce the cost of dealing with misunderstanding!
However, almost all the time the burden to ensure that the reader views the email in the right spirit, lies solely with the sender. I do not see much material advising readers on how to read emails.
It is official now, emails fail to communicate the tone of the message, not matter how hard you try. As per this study, the number of times when senders are pretty confident that they have done a good job of conveying the tone of the message is one a half time more than the number of times they actually succeed in conveying the right tone. Which means, even with the best of the intent from the sender, there is a high probability that the reader will misunderstand the tone. Basically, the means of communication itself is flawed.
Given this, email reading guidelines become as important as email writing guidelines. Three things immediately come to my mind –
- Never assume the worst case scenario. Be optimistic, if the email seems like offending, don’t assume that it is necessarily supposed to offend.
- Check you mood. Sometimes, the way you interpret an email is not because of the content of the email, but because of your mood. Read that email again when you are in a better mood. An email which annoys you in a bad mood may seem perfectly normal later.
- In case of doubt, pick up a phone – just call the sender and clarify.
Remember, emails may be easy, fast and cheap, but are not the most efficient means of communication. they do have some drawbacks, and we have to learn to live with these.