Monday, 13 February 2006

I've been heard on occasion to suggest that it might be a good (or at least interesting) idea to turn off email in the workplace and to resort to more personal means of communication, like say in-person. Or on the phone. Anything that's not written.

Why? Because, it can be so hard to really understand what someone is saying, and especially difficult (if not impossible) to tell what they mean. When you're talking about business relationships, it's hard to believe one can make good, solid decisions based on conversations as limited as email.

Now there's some research that supports my hair-brained suggestions:

According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

"That's how flame wars get started," says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University. "People in our study were convinced they've accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance," says Epley.

One thing's for sure: Simply knowing what the results of this research tell us could make a difference in daily email communication practice.

Does your place of work ever discuss email communication, its pitfalls, and etiquette? Now that's a topic that's worth some face time.


Add/Read: Comments [1]
Tech | Things that Suck
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 11:39:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
The original paper doesn't actually say 50/50, instead, it says the chance of picking correctly the intent of irony vs sincerity was no better then random chance. I find this a much more accurate way to say it than a 50/50 chance.

Choosing between irony vs sincerity is one of the toughest problems in plain text. One thing that makes it tough is that by convention we typically use "quotes" to show something is ironic. Yet this conflicts with using quotes for quotes, quotes for emphasis, and quotes for calling attention to a phrase — all common uses of quotes in text. No wonder we can't interpret irony accurately.

There are also a number of other psychological and sociological causes for the cycle of flames, including over-interpretation of emotional content, emotional contagion, and lowered empathy during higher intensity emotions. I've written more about these in my blog at "Flames: Emotional Amplification of Text" --
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