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16 May


Why emails are so easily misunderstood

May 16, 2006 | By |

The Christian Science Monitor has a pretty decent article about why emails are so easily misunderstood:

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.Because e-mails can be ambiguous, “criticism, subtle intentions, emotions are better carried over the phone,” he says.

All true, but more interesting are the points the article raises about prejudices and minorities:

E-mail’s ambiguity has special implications for minorities and women, because it tends to feed the preconceptions of a recipient. “You sign your e-mail with a name that people can use to make inferences about your ethnicity,” says Epley. …The professors then handed each interviewer what they said was a photo of her subject. In reality, each got a picture of either an Asian or an African-American woman (in reality, all were white).E-mail interviewers who thought the sender was Asian considered her social skills to be poor, while those who believed the sender was black considered her social skills to be excellent. In stark contrast, the difference in perceived sociability almost completely disappeared when interviewer and target had talked on the phone.

Pretty scary. The article is excellent.

Christian Science Monitor > Daniel Enemark > Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood