Snarky Email? Assume Misunderstanding Instead Of Malice

September 18, 2015By
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When we read emails we can’t detect subtle vocal personality or body language.

I read this in a tweet and I can’t find it.

I think it was a tweet anyway.

We live in a wonderful time. Technology has made so much of our lives better, more productive and more enjoyable.

Just thinking of all the information available at our fingertips makes me smile. There is a yearning in so many of us to learn more about the world and with a smartphone we can learn just about anything we want.

But with technology and change also comes challenges.

For me, and I think for others, there is a challenge with communication.

Email & Texting

I’m a huge fan of email. I’ve never been a big fan of the phone. I don’t know why. I’ve read the Fred Couples quote and smiled over the years when he said that he doesn’t answer the phone because someone might be on the other end.

I love email because it’s not an interruption. You can check it when you’re ready.

Texts are similar, but they’re more of an interruption.

And I probably don’t want to admit it, but communication like emailing and texting removes a bit of emotion. You can’t hear subtle things in a person’s voice and you don’t get the body language. That’s removed and it makes it challenging to really know what a person is telling you even though they are writing to you.

Here is a lesson I’ve had to learn…

Assume Misunderstanding, Not Malice

There have been times when an email has come through and it’s been pretty off putting.

We’re all people and I think we all react about the same when an email comes in that seems offensive and hurtful. I mean…how can you not react negatively if you read something negative about yourself?

The words people use can come across as malicious at times. It can seem even worse if they use all CAPS or lots of exclamation points!!!

Yowsa.

And I think I’m guilty of it too. I try to be mindful of what I’m typing to clients, partners and those on our team, but I know sometimes I’ll go back and read a thread and see that what I wrote could be read as hurtful.

And that’s where part of the realization comes in…emails that make you feel hurt and often a result of a misunderstanding and not malice.

Sure, there are times when it is malice and someone is trying to insult you, but for the most part people are nice and they don’t mean harm.

I’ve also realized this when talking with people after reading an email. I’ve found that people are often totally fine even though you think they might be upset with you.

But it’s really just a misinterpretation of their email communication.

How To React And Respond To Email

Today when an email comes in that catches me off guard I try to not let it get to me. I’m human, though, and I’ll have an initial reaction:

What did they say?

But I’m trying to learn to take a step back, close the email and come back to it.

It could be the case that I’m just having a bad morning or something and everything I’m reading seems negative.

But coming back to it also allows me to see if I missed something in the email that totally changes the context.

In the odd cases when it really does seem to be a negative email I still like to respond just like I respond to most emails. I try to keep it positive, focused on the future and focused on making whatever the situation is better for both parties.

I try not to engage in arguments or anything like that. They’re usually just a waste of energy and usually both parties simply want to move on so the best route is to move on and focus on that.

How To Avoid Sending A Potentially Malicious Email

Now comes the flipside…sending emails that will be misunderstood as malicious.

You could make it a habit to start focusing on keeping email positive. Usually negativity won’t help the situation. Usually when you’re giving feedback it’s good to give positive feedback or to explain what you’re looking for. Simply telling someone that they’re wrong is not helpful to any situation really.

It simply comes down to being aware of what you’re telling people and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself how you would respond to the email you’re about to send.

For me, I’ve found that trying to treat others with respect can greatly impact your communication. It won’t fix everything that we miss with email and text, but it does seem to help.

Final Thought

People generally aren’t out to make you feel bad. It’s something I’ve had to learn and am still learning. I’ve gotten a few emails over the years that have been off putting and insulting and all that business.

But in the end it’s usually a matter of misunderstanding and not malice. It’s easy to initially react that the person really hates you, but I’ve found that it’s usually me not reading the communication correctly or the person missing one or two things in the email that would drastically change the context.

Email and similar communication will continue to be important in the future. It’s important to understand that context sometimes gets lost and it’s also important to make sure you’re improving your own communication to avoid negative situations.