Don’t Assume: Why Email Communication Goes Wrong

Assumptions are bad, so don’t make them. When you assume, you just make an ass out of both you and me.

Today I’m talking about the risk of using email as your default for communication. It’s a terrible form of communication that denies you all the little facial and body language cues that are an important part of interpersonal communication. When you read an email, you’re left to assume what those cues are, and often you’re going to assume wrong.

You don’t know

You don’t know if the person writing you an email was smiling as they composed their message. Perhaps they were making a joke and you just don’t get their sense of humour.

You’ll likely assume the worst when you receive a “Let’s talk” email. The message may be that your client has more work for you, not that they’re mad about your current work.

I’ve done this myself. While working on a project, I responded poorly to a client — based on assumptions — and lost myself $50K of further work for that year. Believe me, there was plenty of room in my bank account for that $50K.

The danger of email communication is that we miss so many other contextual clues that are present in face-to-face, or even verbal, communication. So with email, don’t assume.

Read the text of your emails, and don’t read things into them that aren’t there. Don’t spend time parsing for hidden meanings.

Above all, don’t assume you understand the meaning. Ask for clarification.

Remember these three versions of spoken communication?

  1. What you thought you said.
  2. What you actually said.
  3. What the other person heard.

It’s the same for email.

photo credit: loozrboy cc

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