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Why Emails Are Misunderstood

CmdrTaco posted more than 8 years ago | from the i-thought-it-because-you-were-a-jerk dept.


werdna writes "The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on why it's so easy to misinterpret emails. From the article: 'First and foremost, e-mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode meaning well. Second, the prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures e-mailers to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict.'"

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inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missing (4, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335315)

From that article, I agree: "If you're vulnerable to this kind of unintentional prejudice, pick up the phone: People are much less likely to prejudge after communicating by phone than they are after receiving an e-mail."

But, from the article, I disagree: "E-mail tends to be short and to the point." While e-mail can be short and sweet, I've found it to be all over the map. I've seen e-mail as a freebie for people who expound ad nauseum, and it's (e-mail) ubiquitous presence multiplies the wandering missives. Short and sweet is more typical in business settings (though I've seen epics there, too.)

Consider the classic following example. Read each sentence out loud, with emphasis on the bolded word.

  • I didn't steal the money.
  • I didn't steal the money.
  • I didn't steal the money.
  • I didn't steal the money.
  • I didn't steal the money.

I've fallen prey to this. It's too easy to project either your mood, or your opinion, etc. into an e-mail's text and consequently misinterpret the senders intent, message, sometimes to the extent you've flipped their intent 180 degrees.

Most of the time this is just a nuisance. Sometimes it can be amusing -- a story to share over beer (free).

It is worth exercising due care though to avoid escalations and huge misunderstandings sometimes creating hard feelings, and in more extreme cases damaging relationships. I learned from a few hard lessons, if after a few exchanges a dialog became testy and began escalation, I'd intervene on behalf of myself and the correspondent by curtailing the e-mail until a quick chat on the phone could reset the tone. That almost always worked.

(While some use some convention to help make tone and such more clear (e.g., *word*, emoticons, ALL-CAPS, etc.), I've found that to help marginally, and in some cases inflame a tense dialog further when that was not the intent.)

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (1)

Feminist-Mom (816033) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335358)

It is more than that. English is ambigous to begin with. The following sentence has at least 3 interpretations:

"Flying airplanes can be dangerous".
"The horse that raced past the barn fell."

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (5, Insightful)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335403)

Somewhat ironically, you should have been more specific. English phrases are ambiguous, not the language itself. When speaking, people make up for it with intonation, where other languages would make distinctions using word order and choice. It's the reason I tend to use a lot if italicised words in my typing.

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (2, Funny)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335470)

Wait, I screwed that up. My point is that the language makes up for deficiencies in one thing by promoting another thing, and intonation is as much a part of "English" as phrases and words.

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335483)

OK how about this: "Written English is ambigous" ??

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (5, Funny)

Moofie (22272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335673)

How about "Poorly written English is ambiguous."

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (1)

pwnawannab (972367) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335687)

I am certainly not an expert on languages but I do agree with your statement. Moreover, I think your statment will apply to any language. I can add Russian to the list. Any others?

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335416)

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. 1234567890

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335518)

You're missing an "s". It should be:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. 1234567890

Then what about HTML format emails? (2, Insightful)

IUSR (760153) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335422)

Just like you did, e.g. make the words that need emphasis bold , etc..

Re:Then what about HTML format emails? (2, Insightful)

koweja (922288) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335555)

There are still way to many email clients in use that only accept plain text, so you can't necessarily guarentee that the recipient will see your markup.

Re:Then what about HTML format emails? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335574)

So you make it _bold_ or *bold* or BOLD.

What's the fucking problem? Learn how to carry your emotion in your writing. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (4, Interesting)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335513)

You're right in that substitutes for tone of voice and facial expressions are creeping into the language in the form of emoticons etc, but I wonder how long it will be before emoticons are considered to be a proper part of natural languages in the same way that normal punctuation is?

The constructed language Lojban [] takes this a step further, with attitudinal indicators that are the rough analogue of emoticons. For instance, .u'i in a sentence indicates that you are amused. However attitudinal indicators are actually a part of the language proper, and are even spoken out loud.

Mod parent up! (0, Offtopic)

Cybert8 (968584) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335639)

Any mention of lojban rocks! mo vi do.

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (2, Interesting)

SilentChris (452960) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335566)

This is a situation where, strangely enough, emoticons really help. For example, I have a fairly good, sarcastic sense of humor -- very difficult to read in emails. Let's say the "money" example had to do with a few bucks stolen from petty cash.

I didn't steal the money.


I didn't steal the money. :P

The second conveys a kind of shrugged shoulders, palms upward vibe. It not only says that I didn't steal the money, but also conveys my view that stealing a few bucks is a relatively minor problem and we should move on. Without the emoticon there, that would've been a very difficult sentiment to convey succinctly (I guess I could go into a paragraph explaining my viewpoint, like I did here, but that would be rather onerous).

Unfortunately, emoticons aren't considered "professional", and that leads to a lot of misguided cues. I kind of wish they were more accepted in a business setting.

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (1)

ExKoopaTroopa (671002) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335727)

the problem with your case is illustrated in your example, symbols are even worse than words when it comes to multiple interpretations.


does that mean I'm being sarcastic, paternalistic, or just indicating you need to take my comment with a grain of salt ?

I have a text browser (0)

johnny cashed (590023) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335580)

You insensitive clod!

Re:inflection, emphasis, tone, etc. usually missin (2, Funny)

BobVila (592015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335688)

Couldn't someone just bold the text in the email like this?

My opinion on this article... (5, Funny)

zaren (204877) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335318)


Smilies are under-rated (1)

raptor_87 (881471) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335388)

They make for a nice way of expressing tone and intent. ^_^

Re:Smilies are under-rated (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335636)

They make for a nice way of expressing tone and intent. ^_^

Totally agree. Although they're annoying, there the best way of defining your tone when something might sound ambiguous. I think TFA should mention this, because after all this is a substitute for facial expressions, although it should be used with care (because personally I think that a couple of smileys per mail is already enough)

Re:Smilies are under-rated (1)

castoridae (453809) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335678)

Complete agreement here. Unfortunately, they're generally not considered "professional" and just socially untenable in a business setting.

I do find myself throwing a few in for emphasis once I have already developed a rapport with somebody, but I'd never do it in a professional email to someone I didn't feel I knew well enough to understand it as an additional communication, rather than cutesy childish decorations. :-)

BULLOCKS (-1, Offtopic)

seann (307009) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335324)


a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335381)

Bullocks is the plural of Bull -- what you probably meant was Bollocks, which are the bully parts of a single bull.

Another reason... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335326)

is that some are from Nigerian royalty.

It's really hard to read their broken English. I spent at least 3 days emailing back and forth before I figured how to send them $10000 from my bank account.

Now, I'm just waiting for the cash to roll in......

Re:Another reason... (0, Offtopic)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335427)

wow, the king of nigeria really is rich, I got the same e-mail! It's a good job he doesn't like banks or wire transfer for his own money otherwise he wouldn't need to put it through our accounts

Re:Another reason... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335640)

The Nigerian Royal family? Great friends of mine. Tragic that they suffered so much. I just hope that my 10,000 helps them back on their feet afterwhich they promised to give me a stake in their diamond mine.

Re:Another reason... (1)

iwsnet (946715) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335721)

I can't believe people have actually fallen for this e-mail scam, but apparently they have. That's why they keep sending them.

first post fuckers (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335330)

first post

Best rule (0)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335331)

AVOID all caps. It is ambiguous.

ummm (0, Redundant)

sk8dork (842313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335337)

_I_ figured this out for myself, surely after many before me...BREAKING NEWS: the same applies for text messging and text IM!!

Re:ummm (5, Insightful)

robertjw (728654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335361)

Fortunately, nobody ever misunderstands spoken conversations.

I'm Pretty Sure... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335340)

I'm pretty sure that they are so misunderstood because they are composed by such gauche and uneducated knuckle draggers. But it could be because the illiterate morons are allowed to operate computers in the first place.

I'm pretty sure...

Ignorance and Illiteracy (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335519)

What is email? It is simply text. It is little different than books, newspapers, magazines, letters etcetera. Yet these other media don't seem to have nearly as much trouble being understood. This is because the difficulty and cost in producing these media better restrict access to those that are better educated.

Better educated people are able to write and clearly convey a point or concept or emotion. They are also able to properly judge when it is suitable to use a one line message and when it is necessary to write three pages of text to accurately convey a point.

But, the masses that use email seem to lack this basic level of literacy. They generally lack discipline as well as writing ability. Sadly, the problem is only getting worse as instant messaging and SMS text messaging invade popular culture and further erode basic literacy.

Education and Literacy (2, Insightful)

skayell (921119) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335715)

Having worked for some very high tech companies where the employees would hardly fit the classification of illiterate or ignorant, I don' think your comment is on the mark. In fact, I would say it is f&*#ing ignorant.

Books and Newspapers are written by people who are supposed to be good at communications, but often the articles are confusing, misleading, uninformed, biased or just plain wrong.

The truth is that people are doing the communicating and people are flawed. I believe emails can have all of the flaws of people, just amplified because they believe email to be an informal communication. Coupled with the reasons mentioned in RFA, emails are certainly misunderstood, but not necessarily more so than say a letter.

Re:I'm Pretty Sure... (1)

pwnawannab (972367) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335730)

LOL - I hav 2 @gr33 w/ u on dat 1. I must say - a bit harsh, but well deserved!!!

GNAA Reigns Supreme! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335346)

Ive been having this feeling that i'm supposed to be a girl my whole life. Growing up was hard, the girls got tits and i got hair. I didnt fit in with the guys, i didnt fit in with the girls. Girls called me a loser, guys called me a faggot. I nearly ended it all in highschool. But i survived to the ripe old age of 30. Dont get me wrong, i'm only sexually attracted to women, not men at all. I've masturbated furiously since 12 to straight porn, hoping that eventually i'd be like the man in the pictures, but never once did i ever fail to put myself in the womans spot. At my very core of existance i'm not and never will be male.


This why I hate smilies.. (4, Insightful)

Channard (693317) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335352)

People are perfectly capable of writing letters without using smilies and stupid acronyms. At least they used to be able, god knows that the text generation is up to. The problem isn't that there's anything wrong with email as a form of communiation is that people don't think or re-read their mails before hitting send. If you had to click 'send', and then re-read your mail and click 'send' again ten minutes later, there'd be far fewer misunderstandings and a great deal less internet drama.

Re:This why I hate smilies.. (1)

mcsestretch (926118) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335383)

But if I read the post for 10 minutes to proofread, how will I be able to post:

"F1rst p0st!!! I R0XX0rS!!!! U S|_|KKKORRRS!!! LOLOLOLOLL!!!!!eleventy!!!!"?

Re:This why I hate smilies.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335654)

no matter how clear and unambiguous your e-mail is, people never get the intended tone/meaning. they skim for answers or keywords. if the keywords don't add up to what they're looking for, then they freak out and think you're blowing them off. or sometimes they read too much into what is written and the mousewheel in their heads start spinning out of control. i've done e-mail tech support for quite some time, and i can tell you that smileys will never go away. they are very necessary in some situations.

Re:This why I hate smilies.. (0)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335675)

If you had to click 'send', and then re-read your mail and click 'send' again ten minutes later, there'd be far fewer misunderstandings and a great deal less internet drama.

I don't agree. While there might be slightly less misunderstandings, it won't help, mainly because the main informations you need to correctly interpret the intended tone are lacking, therefore, you can read it again and again, you might attempt to see things differently to have a range of different possible intended tones, but you still won't really know better.

Fu the rescue! (2, Funny)

JonTurner (178845) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335359)

That's why I usually begin my letters with:
FU U F'ing F'er.

Such a versitile word. And no confusion!

Emoticons (5, Insightful)

Killjoy_NL (719667) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335360)

This is why I think people "invented" emoticons :)

Or am I mad at those people >:(

All these thoughts make me sad :(

and cry :`(

Who can be indifferent about these things :/

I would be ecstatic :D

Ah well, back to my nintendo (>',')>

Re:Emoticons (1)

scolby (838499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335399)

Yes, but if people took time to properly craft their messages (or, in some cases, knew how to write in the first place) there would be no need for this, or for any of the countless acronyms that have been created.

Re:Emoticons (4, Funny)

houghi (78078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335509)

Hahaha, that was funny. Or did you not mean it in a sarcastic way? Without the emoticon it was very hard to tell.

Re:Emoticons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335494)

( o Y o )

Re:Emoticons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335606)

8===D - - - (_(_8==D

a b c d e f g

Re:Emoticons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335718)

That is not how you do hello.jpg.

all you need to do.. (2, Insightful)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335372)

... is keep e-mails short and to the point, avoid telling jokes, even the old classic "a horse goes into a bar, barman says "what's with the long face?"" because it might be misunderstood... or they might not like your joke (even though it's the best joke ever)

Re:all you need to do.. (1)

sottitron (923868) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335592)

I agree 100%. That is the best joke ever.

Same as a snail mail letter (3, Interesting)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335373)

Email is simply a sped-up version of the old fashion hand-written letter. Yes, you coul tell some of the emotions fo the person by the handwriting, but really words on a page are not new, and the issues with it are stil the same. The only new dimension of it is the speed and ease with which it is passed from one person to the next.

Re:Same as a snail mail letter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335503)

The real problem is that email, while being no different from a snail-letter, has let people become slack in their writing style.

When you write a snail letter, most people put "Dear ___", remember paragraphs, capital letters, phrase their questions correctly, and end with "Sincerely" (or whatever).

With email, everyone is too busy banging one-sentence paragraphs peppered with "..." and "LOL" that it becomes more rambling stream of conciousness rather than communication. If you use the same ideals you would use with a snail-letter, your email becomes much more understandable.

Having said that, I worked with a fellow who used to send most emails which was a single line telling you to do something for him, and ending with the sentence "You will do this for me now.". Honey vs. vinegar, folks.

Re:Same as a snail mail letter (1)

khedron the jester (888418) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335698)

I guess you could say that email's ease-of-use is simultaneously its greatest asset and its biggest weakness.

Re:Same as a snail mail letter (1)

bohemian72 (898284) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335560)

I've never received a tear stained e-mail.

Re:Same as a snail mail letter (2, Interesting)

Rostin (691447) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335689)

The only new dimension of it is the speed and ease with which it is passed from one person to the next.

Depends on what you mean. I think I agree that the difference between email and letter-writing is purely a function of speed and ease, but I don't think the difference is "simple." The care someone puts into writing an email is affected by the fact that the recipient can instantaneously reply and ask for clarification. The same operation with a letter might take days or weeks. An email is not just a faster letter. The content will typically be different.

WTF? (1, Funny)

Otter Escaping North (945051) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335378)

Hard to understand? ROFL!


Rapport (3, Interesting)

Cytlid (95255) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335385)

The article is really good. (Whoa, I read it!). It's difficult to communicate over written medium. But given time, you can become better at it. I actually wrote a customer this morning and used the terms "woops I goofed!". He have built prior rapport, over the phone.

  Email should be one communication tool in your toolbelt. Not the only one. Re-read your email before you send it. See if you can understand it, reading it from an objective point of view. I'm sure editors and authors do this all the time.

  I typically put a bunch of garbage in an email, re-read it, and throw 90% of the garbage out, and am left with two short sentences that get my point across. When I ramble on and on and on, people get bored. (like this post).

Re:Rapport (2, Funny)

Cytlid (95255) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335410)

He have built prior rapport, over the phone.

  Woops I goofed.

Um... (3, Interesting)

GundamFan (848341) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335398)


Email is just like IM chat when I am emailing or chating with a friend or coworker I know personaly I often think to myself "this doesn't sound like so and so". When it is someone I don't know personaly that wierdness is not there... because I have no baseline to compare to.

One thing I do find helps is adding headers and footers to the emails even if it is a quick "good morning So and so" or a "Thanks," before my auto signature(I am not in sales but the same principals used there can apply to many proffesonal settings). The only time I really don't look for things like that is when I know that the person is on a blackberry, and then being overly breif can be forgiven.

And this is news because? (1)

rjstegbauer (845926) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335400)

Ever since I began using email, have I known that email messages lack emotion and are easy to misinterpret.

Not only that, but sometimes a simple typo causes the ENTIRE message to be utterly wrong. I've left out a crucial "not" more than a few times.

Randy - mustbehardupforarticles

This is new information how? (1)

theNetImp (190602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335404)

I could have made this very same statement and I am not an expert. I see it all the time when I am using email and IM. Are people that stupid? Oh wait, stupid question....

lol @ #buttes, failures. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335420)

ahhh tis the season for the farmer bracelet tan! :D
and yes its the one with black hair and yes i figured they were going out
ahahah yeah we were watching him drowning, this old farmer dude was drowning him ...he trapped him. me and tylerjust watched and EW OK I DO NOT WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT ANYMORE AHAHH but yes...the second dream was the sex. and too much gheysecks makes sense but since i was his gf, i dont think thats what it was from. although i wouldnt object to it, i'd actually probably tape it and then we could watch it together I DID NOT JUST SAY THAT
and and and
MATT ..AND ....BOB?!?!?!?!!?!? WTF ARE PEOPLE THINKING! i think the only reason ppl write stuff like that is because they probably just feel bad for the guy, ya know? or they wanna seem like they dont only love two people in the band or something so they include everyone. because they can't HONESTLY get off on something like THAT, CAN THEY? i mean, thats just disgusting!
12 days till him :D:D:D:D:D:D:D
i havent read a story yet today
i have a question
i skipped art on monday but my parents dont know about it because i erased the next art period when i have to go to the office to validate my absence, can i just tell them i skipped so they give me two detentions and not call home?

Ever heard of emoticons? (1)

teutonic_leech (596265) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335423)

RTFA and all I have to say that it's been VERY rare that I misunderstood an email. Smileys and such are a very common way people express their feelings and in business correspondence the tone is pretty much standardized. I actually believe that in spoken language one can misunderstand the other's message as well, happens all the time, right? Some day I might feel a bit down and people might interpret my message in a different light. Anyway, I think there's not much news here - besides, what are we going to do - stop sending emails? ;-)

Re:Ever heard of emoticons? (1)

abscissa (136568) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335498)

How do you know that you never misunderstand an e-mail? Are you like John C Dvorak who never gets spam? Maybe you should write trolling magazine columns too.

Was the above comment a personal attack, or an insightful comment? And what if I put an emoticon at the end of this sentence? ;-)

Re:Ever heard of emoticons? (1)

0110011001110101 (881374) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335581)

I'm sorry... was that emoticon at the end of that sentence done so in jest? Or an attempt at sarcasm??? If so it should have read:

And what if I put an emoticon at the end of this sentence? ;-) :-p :-\

This way I would have know that while you made a winkey face, you were also being a bit tongue in cheek with a smidge of sarcasm. :-| ;-) :-p ;-(

See how that worked? I'm serious, yet playful, sarcastic and slightly upset. I think you just compounded the problem. 8===D ( | )

But it can work for good as well... (2, Interesting)

RFC959 (121594) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335424)

Sometimes the lack of social cues is a good thing. There have been times when I've been irritated at someone and sent them email and realized upon getting their response that they didn't get my irritation - it didn't come across in email, and this was actually a positive thing. Obviously that's a limited case, but it does happen too.

I read it on Slashdot moments ago (4, Funny)

OffTheLip (636691) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335425)

"People Suck at Spotting Phishing" that is "Why Emails Are Misunderstood".

True, even in Slashdot posts (2, Insightful)

abscissa (136568) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335433)

True, natrually. Even Slashdot posts can contain language and diction which seems haughty and arrogant. It is like the poster is trying to "educate" the less informed. Some people even make alot of spelling mistakes and get flamed for it, and we typically assume that these people are poor-intentioned, even when they use ill expressions to correct the original poster.

Short of writing like Charles Dickens I don't anticipate a solution any time soon. (Webcam?)

Aw, more cutting-edge news... (0, Troll)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335449)

from the Christian Science Monitor. It's like they're right there where the action is, except 16 years later.

They had articles about this back during the Usenet days. And this is news how?

I call bullshit (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335459)

Nothing has more urgency than the mouth. Many a regretful statement has passed through mine. And sarcastic and deadpan humor often goes misunderstood, even when my face is in the room. I want some objective evidence email is any worse than what came before. The email is so misunderstood seems like more favor-of-the-month journalism.

another favorite example... unintended semantics (3, Interesting)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335486)

What makes understanding (and meaning) problematic in e-mail is also well known in AI research. Language, while syntactically specific, grants latitude and license in rule usage and interpretation/extraction of meaning.

A favorite example of the nuance of true interpretation:

A long-time foreman of a Nuclear Power Plant was at his retirement party. When asked if he had any parting words of wisdom regarding nuclear power, the foreman winked and said, "Remember, you can never add too much coolant to the core reaction chamber." The story ends with the foreman looking up from his chair on the beach across the bay to see his old plant going up in a mushroom cloud.

Even more shocking, from TFA (2, Interesting)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335487)

The graphic on the side says that perhaps just over 1/2 of emails are understood + interpreted correctly, compared with 3/4 of phone calls. So about 1 in 4 communications by phone are misunderstood? It's no wonder we are all so stressed out, if 25% of the time you're on the phone with someone, they don't get what you're talking about!

Re:Even more shocking, from TFA (1)

abscissa (136568) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335511)

huh? I couldn't understand the first line you wrote, "The graphic on the side says that perhaps just over 1/2 of emails are understood + interpreted correctly" - but I got lines 2, 3, and 4... what the hell are you talking about?

I have been waiting. (5, Funny)

Foo2rama (755806) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335491)

This exact piece of research comes out every year and it is just as earth shattering every time. Thank god that they got it out before the middle of the year and I didn't suffer any anxiety from the delay of the release of this important piece of research. Perhaps since this is written medium did you get the sarcasm?

Ok kids we got this, yes this issue spawned emoticons, can we move on to more important things like Gizmodo execs and Enzo's cut in half.

Same thing goes for posts (3, Insightful)

Ponga (934481) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335497)

Maybe email clients should have a 'Preview' button too, eh?

RL (2, Insightful)

DimGeo (694000) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335506)

It happens in RL, too, you know. Especially if you are talking with people of the opposite sex. In fact, it happens all the time.

Time Warp (1)

slackmaster2000 (820067) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335508)

wElCoMe bAcK tO 1995.

Glad to see christian science is keeping up with the times - I found this article very useful. Do you think that it also applies to world wide web chat rooms like Slashdot? :) :->

Re:Time Warp (1)

just-a-stone (766843) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335669)

the difference between troll and funny is not always obvious, some redundant posts meant something completely different. sure it does.

if you mean christian science and the misinterpretation of written word... welcome back to.... how old is the bible?

Hmmm... (0)

goldaryn (834427) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335526)

werdna writes "The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on

Christianity and science. Not exactly the happiest of bedfellows, historically speaking.. I'm not saying this is fud, but it is a pretty obvious point to be making (hence the duh tag I suppose, with which I have to agree..)


Re:Hmmm... (1)

Dr. Sp0ng (24354) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335563)

The Christian Science Monitor is one of the better online news sources. Everything's well-written and well-researched, and bias is kept to a minimum (and what bias there is tends to be left-leaning, which is surprising considering the source).

Don't judge it based on its name - it's a great site.

I'm guilty of this... (3, Insightful)

Zaphod2016 (971897) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335530)

Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict.

Awhile ago I was working on a project with a few freelancers. It worked out well, so we continued working together. Everything was roses until we ended up in a really ugly project and the "blame game" started. A day later, this wonderful "team" of ours was nothing but a ghost. The resulting flamewar would make even the most persistant /. troll blush.

Freelancer != Employee

Email/IM != Meeting

I'm not sure why, but it would seem as though people *need* to be forced together into horrible and painful meetings when the time comes to make "tough choices".

My mistake was in allowing my own anti-meeting bias to cloud my better judgement.

But sometimes emails are supposed to offend (5, Insightful)

i am kman (972584) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335533)

Actually, I've found most emails correctly carry the emotion of the sender - particularly if their very mad or frustrated.

The problem is people feel much freer to express extreme anger, curse, and belittle people over email than they ever would in real life.

Look at many of the posts to this website - while some people really are complete assholes, I'd bet a significant fraction of the posts here would NEVER be said in a face-to-face conversation (particularly if someone dares to actually compliment Windows). That's precisely because emails correctly convey emotion that most people won't express in real life.

Fighting via email (2, Interesting)

From A Far Away Land (930780) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335544)

I had a girlfriend once [no really], that would want to fight over email sometimes. We'd be talking using MSN Messenger, then suddenly if I said something that pissed her off, she'd sign out and start emailing me instead. It was the most annoying thing in the world, especially since Hotmail was broken and it'd take hours sometimes for one of my replies to find its way back to her inbox.

It was also impossible to end the fight over email, as anything I said always lead to more problems, until I could talk her into getting back on MSN Messenger to talk with me either by messages, or through a voice-call.

I think email is easy to hide behind and perfect for chewing someone out, but doesn't have a warm fuzzy side to it at all.

Work rules (3, Insightful)

evildogeye (106313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335546)

We have a rule at work. If you are going to say something nice, feel free to send an email. If you are going to send something critical or mean, pick up the phone or walk over to the persons desk.

What is the tone of this article? (1)

Rheagar (556811) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335554)

I'm having a hard time determining if this article was written to be informative, cautionary, or sarcastic.

Why misunderstanding is misunderstood (4, Insightful)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335556)

The problem is not with the lack of nonverbal cues, but with people who are easily offended. Such people simply assume that everyone hates them and everything else in the world. Obviously, such mindset leads to interpreting every sentence in the worst possible way, seeing insult in place of irony, personal attacks in passionate arguments, and hatred in the omission of flattery. The email world would be a far friendlier place if everyone assumed goodwill in correspondence instead, choosing to interpret every statement as if it came from a dearest friend, trustworthy and kind, if perhaps sometimes absent-minded. The best way to become friends with any man is simply to start treating him like one.

Re:Why misunderstanding is misunderstood (2, Interesting)

zaren (204877) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335653)

The problem is not with the lack of nonverbal cues, but with people who are easily offended.

Or intentionally offended...

I had a sig that was a quote from a co-worker about me: "You're a Mac user... you're left-handed... you eat Miracle Whip... *and* you're Polish? You're not from this planet!" One day some middle-manager type woman came up to me and informed me that my sig was offensive to her, as "eating Miracle Whip" was an offensive and suggestive comment in certain places, and that I had to change it, or she'd report me.

Having only been there a few weeks, I changed it.

Oddly enough, she failed to complain about my next sig, which was two quotes:

"It's the Information Age... everything gets saved except the human soul" - Usenet posting
"And as we drift along, I never fail to be astounded by the things we'll do for promises... and a song" - "All The Fools Sailed Away", Dio

Kum Bi Ya (1)

i am kman (972584) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335658)

Yes, dear friend, let's all hold hands and sing. Wouldn't the world be so much nicer if every smiled and hugged their children? Thank you for the eloquent and insightful post.

It so refreshing to read posts that aren't condescending or self-righteous.

Damn - now what's the right emoticon for sarcasm? ;>

Re:Why misunderstanding is misunderstood (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335674)

The best way to become friends with any man is simply to start treating him like one.

Dear Mr. Chemisor,

      I like you. We are friends. A certain relative of mine is in need of TEN THOUSAND US DOLLARS ($10,000.00) in order to be able to release from customs a container full of merchandise valued at TEN MILLION US DOLLARS ($10,000,000.00). I have told him about you my good friend Mr. Chemisor and as a friend I know you will help us take this shipment from the customs and in return my relative will give you ONE MILLION US DOLLARS ($1,000,000.00) in one month. My friend I need you to send the money most immediately to the International Bank of Nigeria western union today since my relative is urgently in need of this assistance.

      Thank you my friend,

      Mr. Smith,
      President of the International Bank of Nigeria

Back to flamewars (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335593)

This only brings us back to the article about the origin of flamewars we had a few months ago, explaining that flamewars on internet start mainly because people's tone gets misinterpreted, due to the same lack of informations as the summary here talks about (didn't bother reading the article, I will once I post this, I'm not new here anymore).

In other words, that's not really news, is it?

Missunderstood emails (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15335599)

Those emails that are not understood probably lack the correct use of the correct words coupled with the saintly praise of patience.

WOW! (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335601)

The things covered in the article are completely new to me. Really! I mean, like, the reason you can be misunderstood over e-mail is the lack of voice expressions and face expression?

Shit, being a scientist is sure a hell of a complex job.

I've never EVER read than in thousands of other articles throughout the last 10 years, and it's totally not common knowledge. Honest!

Good punctuation and proper use of capitals, too (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335605)

My subject line says it all. Good punctuation and proper capitalization go a long way in preventing the following sentence:

"Go help your uncle, Jack, off the horse."

from turning into something much darker.

1996 called... (1)

Wabbit Wabbit (828630) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335628)

they want their article back. While we're at it, let's get Ric Romero right on this!


Poor Vocabulary? (4, Interesting)

miyako (632510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335632)

I have often wondered if much of the difficulty which arises in written communcation (email, IM, etc.) is due to a general degredation in the vocabulary of the populous. I beleive that my own vocabulary is just slightly above what may have been the average for people born a generation or two before me, but I think that it is vastly larger than that of many of my 20-something peers. Although there may be many causes of this, such as a general decline in literacy, a lack of focus on grammar in schools, MTV, a general trend toward a more streamlined form of english , a conspiracy run by the dental floss industry, Mercury in retrograde-whatever. The result is that by having a smaller vocabulary, the effective resolution of the language is degredated. The more subtle details of language are lost like converting a true color PNG to an 8 bit gif.
Compare the letters written by- for example- soldiers during the civil war with letters that are written today. It should be a safe assumption that the regular infantry whos letters are oft cited from that era would be average for the time period. In both cases, we are dealing with a form of written communication. While it is perhaps true that letters written before the advent of email were subject to more revisions and were generally more well thought out, the fact is that there is a much larger breadth of vocabulary used in them. I think that if people today were willing and able to use a larger vocabulary they would be able to correspond more effectively and avoid misunderstandings.

Simply Not True! (2, Interesting)

Modern Demagogue (975016) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335644)

During a Nonverbal communication class while an undergrad I did significant research into both the literature and previously performed experiments on this subjecte and found an alltogether different result. I posted my paper at:t: /131-Remediation-Of-Nonverbals-In-Computer-Mediate d.html []

The introductory paragraph: Non-verbal communication is undeniably a core part of human interaction. The slightest nod of the head, blink of an eyelid, or ill-timed cough can, when analyzed in context, convey the truth of meaning in a conversation. However, today's most utilized communication tool seems to simply deny access to all traditional non-verbal devices. The Internet, not inherently as a medium, but in its current manifestation, with its current crop of computer-mediated communication (CMC) utilities forces use of the written word as the primary medium of rapid communication. Such absence of vocal cues, modifiers, and adaptors utterly eliminates the 63% (or more) of information conveyed in a normal, Face-to-Face (FtF) situation. Such an absence would seem to preclude the Internet and CMC as a forum for social communication and emotional interaction. However, this is a false assumption. A completely independent set of replacement nonverbal behaviors have developed in order to augment the perceived sterility of text-only communication. Furthermore, research demonstrates that not only may social and emotional relationships develop through CMC, but now tend to be the primary utilizations of such technologies. These results arise from a multitude of studies focusing on the intrinsic nature of human communication and the specific manner in which users redefine NVC for the context of this constantly evolving low media richness environment.

Simply, humans have adapted admirably to the demands of this new method of communication

Shut your effing gob, tou tit! (0, Redundant)

wiredog (43288) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335701)

Your type really makes me puke! You snotty, malodourous, perverts!

Hmmm, yeah, that probably needs some smilies and html markup to make the emotional context clearer.

I'll tell ya why they're misunderstood (1)

thewils (463314) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335725)

It's because the sender often thinks he's included an eyeball screen-capture to accompany the email so you know exactly what he's looking at. Or maybe he thinks he's added a zip file containing a telepathic mind-dump so you have a clue what's rattling around inside his brain.

Emails are most often misunderstood because the sender hasn't a bloody clue as to how to write one.

Yawn! (1)

jachim69 (125669) | more than 8 years ago | (#15335731)

How many stories that say exactly this same thing have we seen in the past 10 years? Stuff that matter? I don't think so.
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