2 Steps to Avoid Email Misunderstandings

How to Avoid Email Misunderstandings

Did you know that most misunderstandings could be easily avoided if one side or the other did not:

  • Assume what the other meant.
  • Read into an email what wasn’t there.
  • Take the time to be clear about their intent and tone.

It’s dreadful what little things lead people to misunderstand each other.
~ L.M. Montgomery

Do. Not. Assume.

Here’s a classic…

Who doesn’t have time to (insert activity here)? What is odd is how onliners do have the time to do certain things and not others, like reading an email in full and taking the time to understand intent.

When we whip off a reply based on assuming what someone meant but didn’t actually type, we do both sides a disservice. Many times this creates a difficult situation that could have easily been avoided.

The other side then wonders why you responded the way you did. And in return, do the same. Before we know it, we have a bunch of unnecessary back and forths about something someone didn’t mean. Resulting in misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

The takeaway?

Never assume; take folks at their word. And, if you type it, you had better mean it!

The text has disappeared under the interpretation.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

When unsure of intent, be pleasant and take the high road. Ask what someone meant before assuming, even if that means picking up the phone and asking before assuming! When on the brink of a misunderstanding, it is imperative to include a greeting and cordial closing. The lack thereof only exasperates the situation because you will “sound” terse or upset.

Do. Not. Format.

Overuse of formatting (bolding and red font color) causes an otherwise minor misunderstanding to grow into a full-fledged argument. If you are not sure of the other side’s intent, do not use bold or red fonts. Doing so will only cause unnecessary emphasis and exasperate an already dicey situation.

Take the time to make sure your intent and tone are clear without resorting to formatting. Read your email out loud before hitting send. You may be surprised at how your email can be perceived. If you know the other side probably meant to be abrasive or argumentative — “kill” them with kindness. That will help to diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, there are times where you may have to compensate for others’ lack of effort to communicate with clarity by taking the lead.

Getting into the habit of integrating proper email etiquette into your day-to-day communications helps you easily avoid and dilute unnecessary misunderstandings. And set a good example in the process!

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