Email 'tone' often misinterpreted

How often do you get irritated after reading an insensitive email? Do you ever find yourself thinking what a jerk that person is for writing that and how you’re going to give that person what they gave you right back. Jotting off an email of equal or more malicious intent; it will serve them right after what they said to you!

Ah, that’s just it…they didn’t “say” anything to you. The tone you are interpreting in the text of the mail is something you attribute to the original sender, not necessarily from the message itself. I have been a party to flying email messages of increasing harshness where unintended malice is interpreted and projected on the text and then, by extension, the person sending the message.

So many things color our impressions of what people are saying and how they say it. It’s not surprising that we use those same things to color the words in email messages. Sometimes the stress caused by wondering exactly in what context a sender meant a particular message is so overwhelming that it causes us to build up a defensive wall before knowing if that context is correct or just guessed at. Even if you know the person very well, there can be an occasion of misunderstanding; as there often is with the spoken word.

In today’s text driven world, it is easy to get ruffled feathers about how someone “said” something. But it makes sense to remember that, just as in spoken language, there are different interpretations of how something is meant. Instead of focusing on the perceived negative intent, a better solution is to reread the message and then, if there is any question of intent, take time to speak to the person that sent the message. Explain the way you interpreted the message and confirm their intent. More often than not, there is an alternate reasoning behind the perceived negativity; one that depends on mood, time of day, alertness, or any number of other factors. Before you react to a message, take the time to communicate your uncertainty. It may save a job, a client or a relationship.

- Larisa Langley