Ever since there was the written word, misunderstandings and misinterpretations have existed.
Then email was invented, and miscommunications became more frequent. The nature of email today is that it is quicker than actual printed letters. People tend to treat email more casually than printed letters. Introductions are more casual and many times, they are not as carefully edited or their words are not as analyzed as printed letters.
Often they are sent in a hurry or while you are stressed or thinking about something else. Everyone is rushed these days, and most people get more emails than they have time to deal with.
It’s no wonder that conflicts over email happen.
Often, when you’re in the middle of an email war, you’re not even sure how it started in the first place or how it escalated to become a problem.
5 Tips for Dealing with Email Misunderstandings at Work
- First of All, Know How Email Wars Happen
Know that you can’t convey body language, pitch, and tone of voice to help convey what you mean when writing an email. That means that something you write that sounds one way in your head can be taken in another context by the recipient of the email.
If that person becomes angry or defensive and emails you back with an inappropriate (to you) response, and you answer, that is how it starts. The next thing you know, people are upset and a proverbial mountain has been made out of a molehill. It is even worse when other people are copied on the email, and become dragged into the war.
- Realize That an Email War Does Not Benefit Anyone – Except the Rumor Mill
Let’s just say that an email you’ve sent has been misinterpreted or taken out of context. The person sends a curt reply. Irritated, you fire back, and it goes on and on.
So how do you solve this? Realize that email wars, if perpetuated, use up valuable time and threaten constructive working relationships. Try to your best to nip this one in the bud. Be the first to acknowledge that you should have been clearer, and ask if the person needs clarification.
- Take It Offline as Soon as Possible
Right away, nip it in the bud by taking it offline. Call the recipient of the email at the first hint of annoyance or misunderstanding, or drop by the person’s office if they are located within your building.
Be friendly, apologize for not being clearer, and clear things up right there. The good thing about being face to face is that you can solve the problem and clear the air right there before you leave. Taking the time to call or make a visit also shows that you respect the person and that you care.
- Don’t Be Emotional
If the person fires back at you, and you’re angry or upset, just pause before you reply. Go for a walk, get a coffee, tackle another project, and if at all possible, leave it until the next day before you respond. Angry exchanges back and forth will not solve the problem.
- Don’t CC Anyone Else
You don’t need an audience for your drama. Before you reply to someone’s angry email, remove anyone that was on the CC line.
Always Follow Up
Even after the situation is resolved, and you have reached an understanding, consider following up with the person afterwards. Send a friendly email saying that you are happy that the situation has been rectified, make a joke out of it, if this person is a colleague in your building, suggest that you take a coffee break together – and buy the coffee. A little goes a long way when making sure there are no hard feelings.