Productivity

5 Ways to Improve Communication, Reduce Email and Avoid Misunderstandings

How well do you think you communicate?

According to author Nick Morgan, people think others understand their messages 90 percent of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50 percent. That’s crazy!

People only understand your message 50% of the time.

Sometimes we have the best of intentions but something gets lost in translation. We’ve probably all experienced numerous misunderstandings — a joke taken the wrong way or a serious question that came off as sarcastic. Did you know recipients of two-word emails like “nice job” interpret the message as sarcastic 60 percent of the time? 

Two-word email responses such as “nice job” are interpreted as sarcastic 60% of the time.

How can we stop these mishaps, avoid misunderstandings, lighten up our jam-packed email inboxes, and become better communicators?

Here are five tips:

Read your email out loud.

Studies show people routinely overestimate their ability to convey their intended tone when they send emails but they also overestimate their ability to correctly interpret tone in the messages sent to them (Source: Justin Kruger, PhD, Nicholas Epley, PhD, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 89, No. 5, pages 925-936.). This disconnect is likely due to our inability to detach from ourselves and consider how someone else’s perspective could alter their interpretation.

This disconnect is likely due to our inability to detach from ourselves and consider how someone else’s perspective could alter their interpretation.

If you want to avoid someone taking your email or message the wrong way, read it out loud objectively. If they sent a long-winded email or delivered a project that took them months to complete and your response is “thanks,” it’s probably not going to go over well. Context can be a good indicator if you’re going in the right direction.

Always reread your messages before sending to make sure your message is clear and conveys the intended tone.

Pick up the phone.

I know, I know. We expect text, chat and email to save us time, to make it easier for everyone because it’s quick and convenient. At least it’s supposed to be, in theory. But sometimes a phone call can go a long way in avoiding miscommunication and endless back-and-forth emails. Sometimes the easiest way to avoid miscommunication and be more efficient is as simple as getting face to face. Most digital miscommunications happen because we aren’t listening to tone of voice, watching body language, and reading facial expressions. These non-verbal clues help us decrypt intent and navigate conversations.

Most digital miscommunications happen because we aren’t listening to tone of voice, watching body language, and reading facial expressions.

Here are some examples of times it may be better to have a spoken conversation:

  • When you anticipate a lot of questions: Will this email set off a chain of questions? Are you going to spend all day playing email tag? If the answer is yes, you can save time with a spoken conversation where you can answer questions quickly and more efficiently.
  • When it’s important: Flagging your email as “urgent” isn’t always enough. Many professionals have inboxes in the double (or even triple!) digits. If it’s truly important, it’s time to pick up the phone.
  • When it’s complicated: If you have to explain something complicated like a series of complex steps or tasks, it may be time to pick up the phone or schedule a conversation. Walking someone through a process can save time and avoid frustrating misunderstandings.
  • When you need a “yes”: If you want or need a “yes,” your request is far more likely to be successful if you ask in person as opposed to an email. Email opens up a world of waiting, back and forth, and negotiation. If you want to seal the deal, make a personal connection and chat face to face or at least voice to voice.

Add emojis.

Emojis seem like they’re here to stay. The majority of Slack users report they use emojis at least once a day. Not only is emoji acceptance growing, emojis can actually help us express tone and clarify emotional intent. They can even act as a generational bridge. Just proceed with caution. Stay professional and avoid over-using them.

Check for typos.

Have you ever quickly typed up an angry email? Typos can indicate we were in a rush when we sent the message or give an impression we were in an emotional state: angry, sad, or frustrated. Before you hit send, take a moment and look through your message. Catching and cleaning up typos can help avoid misinterpretation.

Avoid sending messages on off hours if it’s not urgent.

There’s nothing worse than coming back from a sick day or vacation to an inbox FULL of non-urgent and already-resolved emails. Or logging in for the morning to a string of emails from after hours.

When you send emails and messages after hours, your message is easily missed and buried in fresh morning emails. If you are working late and want to send a non-urgent message, try the schedule tool or save a draft to send during working hours. Ok, let’s make a pact. If you stop it, I’ll stop it.

If you want to avoid stress-inducing, endless, back-and-forth email exchanges, these tips can help you recognize a disconnect between the issue and the solution.

Comment and tell me what your biggest communication pet peeve is.

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