Avoid Email and Texting Misunderstandings

At one time or another most of us have had to backpedal in order to correct a mistake or misunderstanding resulting from a hastily written and sent email. At the ‘beginning of emailing,’ you may have been writing to someone on the same server. That meant you could click ‘un-send’ if you realized the email had errors or set the wrong tone. If you were lucky, the person hadn’t read the email so your problem was solved. Even though un-send isn’t an option today, we usually don’t realize there is a problem until the person responds to our email or text.

Following best practice can help avoid a large number of these problems. Yet, many people never re-read their emails or use spell check their document. They write as though the person was standing in front of them. Here are a few helpful tips when emailing and texting.

1. Always read and re-read every email/text before you send it

Responding in the moment isn’t best practice. Take time to craft what you want to say. After writing the email/text, read it, edit it, and possibly completely re-write it.

Following this practice is essential when writing to business professionals, clients, and professional colleagues. The best way to develop this habit is to do it whenever writing an email or text, even to friends or family. It only takes a few extra minutes; yet it can help you avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations. You will avoid sending an unintended message.

Recently I wasn’t feeling well. I was stressed and distracted, but still tried to clear everything from my ‘to-do’ list. In my haste, I didn’t follow this rule and it led to an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation.

2. Spell and grammar check your all correspondence

You have only 3 seconds to make a great first impression. Do you want that first impression to be based on a spelling or grammar error in an email or text? Having a disclaimer at the bottom of an email doesn’t change the fact that you misspelled a word or used the wrong tense in your sentence.

Take pride in what you are writing; it says a lot about who you are. If you aren’t paying attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it, how does your client, customer or colleague know you will pay attention to details related to work?

3. Remember email and texting aren’t conversations

What you write must be both concise and clear. The person reading your email will probably have written and answered tens of emails between the first one you sent and the follow-up. They may not know or remember what you are referring to.

Avoid saying ‘thanks,’ ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘I agree’ and other such comments when responding to an email without clarifying your statement. Those words need to be attached to the reason you are making the comment. ‘Thanks for the introduction to John Smith.’ ‘Yes, I can make the 9:00 a.m. meeting at Starbucks.’ ‘No, Friday won’t work for me, but next Tuesday would be perfect.’

The reader won’t have to go back and find your last email or re-read all of the emails that are attached to the current one. The reader won’t feel confused and your intended message will be delivered.

4. Tell ‘why’ when commenting, making a request, or replying to a statement

I always told my students they needed to tell my why, which lead them to believe my favorite word was ‘because.’

By explaining and supporting a statement, the reader will understand your thinking. The tone of an email is in the mind of the reader. You want the reader to clearly understand what you are saying, which avoids confusion and averts an argument.

Avoid accusing the other person. ‘Why would you…?’ If discussing a sensitive or difficult matter, try to use softer words.  When writing about feelings, beliefs or values it is helpful to use I statements rather than You statements. Sometimes adding emoji can help set the tone and prevent any misunderstandings.

5. Call the person rather than lots of back and forth emails/texts

Email and texting have a time and place. We probably can’t live without them. Yet they aren’t really a conversation, which is defined as a back and forth of spoken words. When a message is read vs. heard, the speaker’s tone is in the mind of the reader. This may result in an unintended message being delivered. It is important that the message sent is the message received. By placing a phone call and having a conversation, the intended message is more likely to be delivered and in a more timely manner.

6. The goal is to effectively communicate!

Effective Communication will only occur when verbal and non-verbal messages are in sync. This means speakers/listeners have the opportunity to ask questions, clarify comments, and make statements. Words are less than 10% of any message. So when the message is only what is written, the majority of the message is not being delivered. This can easily lead to misinterpretation. If you are only emailing and texting, even if you think you are having a conversation, you aren’t. So in order to have an effective conversation and avoid a message is misunderstood or misinterpreted, pick up the phone or if possible arrange a face to face meeting.