People seem to be so happy to have e-mail nowadays… it truly is much easier to communicate using e-mail than actually having to see somebody face-to-face, especially when the subject of conversation is somewhat conflictual. As we have seen in one of my earlier posts about the components of communication, 55% of the non-verbal aspects contribute to the understanding of what your counterpart is saying and 38% of the paraverbal.
So where can these aspects be found in e-mail communication, where you cannot see your discussion partner? The non-verbal aspect would actually be equivalent to character fonts, drawings, diagrams, colours… all of which are usually standardised and not available when working in a bigger company. And even in smaller ones: I don’t know anybody, who would on purpose change the font and insert images when writing to different stakeholders, do you?
The paraverbal aspect on the other hand is linked to whether you write something in bold or in italics, or whether something is underlined as well as the paragraphs and the spaces that you are leaving in your message.
This doesn’t give you a lot of room to communicate emotions or feelings and very often leads to disastrous results when the other person understands something completely different from what you wanted to express. It is true that without facial expressions, or tone of voice, posture, gestures, it becomes difficult to actually transmit a message. What then happens is that very often, as we don’t have sufficient information available, we make things up and interpret e-mails in a way which is bound to our own experiences and our own culture. We also subsequently believe that what we are interpreting is actually the truth as mostly, there is no evidence to prove the contrary. We then end up being frustrated or frightened or simply angry on/by something which was never intended to harm us or have such an effect…if, like most people (and I count myself in it as well, although I am trying very hard to change that bad habit) you then respond back immediately, following your own interpretation, things escalate and the spiral of messages doesn’t end anymore… until, well until somebody decides that maybe a quick call or face-to-face meeting would help resolve the issue.
What can we do to avoid that situation in our daily lives? Here are some steps that you could follow:
- Don’t react immediately to mails that annoy you, take your time!
- Take a deep breath
- Calm down (mindful walking or even a short mindful meditation could be helpful here)
- Write your message/response
- Try and put yourself into the receivers’ shoes: what day did he/she have today? How does he/she feel? What culture is he/she from? How does this person normally communicate?
- Read your message again and change things. If you can:
- Wait a couple of hours and
- Read the message again. Maybe you then decide that it is not worth sending it anymore or maybe you decide to
- Send your message
Remember: once a message is sent, you cannot get it back, even though you might be tempted to click on ‘recall’….
 Compare also with “Mindful e-mailing”, p. 224-226. in “Search Inside Yourself” from Chade-Meng Tan.