Writing a email is like a declaration of war 11


Have you noticed, people often don鈥檛 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 ( 馃檪 ) 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:

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 The receiver can鈥檛 see the sender, so she or he can鈥檛 see the person鈥檚 body language, and body language is an important part of the message.

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

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 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鈥檛 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:

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Don鈥檛 judge too quickly. If a message sounds negative or hostile, ask and give the sender a chance to explain.

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 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.

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Add some feeling to your messages, for example by adding something like 鈥渙n a lighter note鈥 or 鈥渏ust kidding鈥 after your statement, or the 馃檪 icon, or LOL, even though I don鈥檛 like using them.

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

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

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Avoid irony, antithesis and sarcasm 鈥 they don鈥檛 work in cyber space.

Hannes Nel, MD Mentornet

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