Written communication can be open to misinterpretation and as we continue to work remotely some of the time, our tendency to send emails over engaging in face-to-face conversation is potentially placing us at risk of miscommunication.
Remote and hybrid work has led to an increase in our dependency on emails, DMs, texts and IMs in order to communicate with our colleagues but electronic communications lack those all-important nonverbal interventions, namely inflection and facial expressions which leaves the underlying tone of any written message open to interpretation by the recipient. Sadly, our brains are wired to lean towards the negative, so something we’ve written in complete innocence has the potential to come across as rude, condescending or aggressive when that was clearly not the intent.
According to a study of emails by WordFinder by Your Dictionary, some of the most commonly used terms and workplace jargon actually come across as passive-aggressive when in written form, potentially creating tension, making colleagues feel uncomfortable or, in the worst case scenario, even jeopardising someone’s job.
“Please advise” tops the top ten list of offenders:
- Please advise
- Friendly reminder
- Will do
- Thanks in advance
- Per our last conversation
- Circling back
- As per my last email
- As promised
- As discussed
Lesser used passive-aggressive phrases include, “any update on this,” “sorry to bother you again” and “I’ll take care of it.”
Commenting on the findings of the study, Michael Kwan, content lead for WordFinder says: “Communication in the workplace can be hard. For better or worse, digital communication— whether through email or direct messages —doesn’t let us see each other’s immediate reactions, which is why we look for ways to politely express irritation. As a result, employee frustration and miscommunication are at an all-time high, with tone alone being misinterpreted quite a bit in email communication.”
How to avoid miscommunication
None of us wish to be misunderstood and would be mortified to find we’d inadvertently and unintentionally offended one of our colleagues. Kwan suggests deciding, before shooting off an email, if the conversation is better suited to a face-to-face conversation or phone call. Certainly, if the communication involves any kind of constructive criticism, a Zoom or phone call is preferable, enabling the use of facial expressions and/or vocal inflection to moderate the message.
If your communication is one that is suitable for email, go over what you’ve written, focusing on tone and how the message might be construed. Look at it through the eyes of the recipient. If you spot or feel any negativity, a quick reword might be required.
Kwan continues: “The more genuine you can be in your communication, avoiding what may appear to be a flippant canned response, the better.” He says effective communication requires thinking about what your own response to an email or message would be. Occasionally, there’s no avoiding difficult workplace conversations, so its vital to remove as much ambiguity and emotion as possible through open and honest communication.”
Image courtesy of Artie Medvedev – Shutterstock