Writing a email is like a declaration of war 11


Have you noticed, people often don’t interpret you email messages the way you meant it? This often leads to the demise of friendships and healthy business relationships. Take Facebook (or Twitter, MXIT, Whatsapp, BBM, etc.) as an example. Someone may send thousands of messages over a long period of time, and then, one day, they send just one, JUST ONE message that people interpret negatively, then all the good work of so many previous messages is down the drain. We all know of examples where such slip of the tongue (or finger) ruined the reputation of otherwise good people.

Point is, this is often unfair and we should do something about it. Sometimes people would put an icon ( 🙂 ) after a statement, or LOL, to show that it is just a joke. To me this is a bit awkward; it often spoils the joke or whatever other message the writer had in mind.

There are, I believe, three main reasons why people misinterpret electronic messages:

·         The receiver can’t see the sender, so she or he can’t see the person’s body language, and body language is an important part of the message.

·         The sender can’t explain his or her message, seeing that we try to write economically, so the message is not clear.

·         The receiver or receivers of the message misuse it to get at the sender, be it for political, financial, personal or whatever other reason.

I don’t think we are ready for this new manner of communicating yet. What we need is some education and, perhaps, a protocol according to which we should communicate electronically. Here are some suggestions on what such a protocol should include:

·         Don’t judge too quickly. If a message sounds negative or hostile, ask and give the sender a chance to explain.

·         Put yourself in the shoes of the receiver and think how you would interpret and react to your message, then rephrase it if necessary before you send it.

·         Add some feeling to your messages, for example by adding something like “on a lighter note” or “just kidding” after your statement, or the 🙂 icon, or LOL, even though I don’t like using them.

·         Be prepared to change your initial interpretation of a message if the sender explains differently.

·         Always wait at least a day before you respond to a message that you perceive as negative, hostile or insulting.

·         Avoid irony, antithesis and sarcasm – they don’t work in cyber space.

Hannes Nel, MD Mentornet

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About Hannes Nel

CEO and owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd. Academic background: B. Mil.; BA Honnours; MBL; D. Com; D. Phil Published 10 books with two more in the pipeline.


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