President's Message: Perception Is Reality

President's Message

President's Message: Perception Is Reality

How someone interprets your email matters more than what you mean.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like email very much. We all get way too much of it, but the real problem is that too much of it falls into the category of bad communication.

A common solution for too much email is to use a different piece of software like Skype for Business or LinkedIn or even Slack. The problem with these suggestions are that they completely fail to solve the real problem.

I can’t improve my golf game just by going out and buying a new set of clubs. In the same way, I can’t become an effective communicator overnight because I have some new piece of software. One of the main reasons why email is so bad is because if the sender isn’t a skilled communicator, it’s really easy to misunderstand tone and intent.

A few years ago, a designer I didn’t know very well sent me an email. I found the email so offensive I felt the need to call him up and ask him why he had such a problem with me.  When he asked me what I meant, I told him to pull up the email he had sent. I then proceeded to read it to him as I interpreted it on my end.  He immediately apologized. He meant to be helpful by pointing out something he thought our company could improve upon, but since I didn’t know him and his word choices suggested an aggressive and almost belligerent tone, it resulted in bad communication.

State Farm Insurance Company made a commercial last year that I think illustrates this point perfectly. It features a young woman receiving her first car and a businessman coming back to his car on blocks. They both say: “Is this my car? What?!? This is ridiculous! This can’t be happening!” Same words, but with totally different meaning. Tone conveys a lot and email doesn’t do tone well.

What’s worse is the increased use of voice-texting and relaxed writing style that results in jumbled words, missing punctuation or incomplete sentences that leave me wondering what in the world the sender is trying to tell me. No amount of software is going to fix those problems. The only thing that will is picking up the phone or making the effort to have a face-to-face conversation.

Perception is reality. If my customer reads an email of mine and interprets it differently than I intended I have a real problem on my hands. I’m not saying we should do away with email. However, I think it’s important to stress to our employees the importance of reviewing emails before they’re sent. More importantly, if something critical needs to be communicated to a customer or co-worker, it probably should be done over the phone or in person. It will eliminate a lot of bad communication.