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Misunderstandings in Email Messages

Instantaneous messages on social media or through email can be fraught with errors and create misunderstandings. Learning to write effectively for business is so important largely because written messages lack the nuances of volume, tone, facial gestures and body language.

Today, we use email to communicate about all sorts of important matters. The context of messages can contain hidden – or obvious – emotional undertones. Readers of email messages can easily misinterpret tone or nuances.

For example, it's not a good idea for business writers to attempt jokes in email messages. Picture your favorite comedian: His or her best jokes combine funny words and concepts with dead-on delivery. Email messages present only words, and leave concepts open to interpretation. Recipients read messages within the context of their own concerns, histories, even biases.

Avoiding misunderstanding includes your own reaction to an email message and how you respond. If you misinterpret meaning and respond quickly with a knee-jerk reaction, you risk escalating an issue or creating a problem that never existed. Have a trusted colleague read the message you've received from his or her point of view. And respond carefully, either waiting enough time to cool off, or reading your response several times from the receiver's point of view.

When rushing, and especially if angry, use caution on "Reply," "Reply All," and "Forward" choices. And regardless of whether you choose to forward an email to a friend or colleague, be careful about how you word your concerns or emotions regarding its content.

Finally, walk a fine line between being personable in an email message and being personal. When you take a personable approach, you maintain a professional and positive tone, but ensure the message directly addresses and considers your recipient or group of recipients. If you're CEO of the business, try to avoid stuffy, corporate doublespeak. But don't try to buddy up to a recipient. Keep the tone friendly, but not too personal or fake. When in doubt, err on the side of professional subject lines, salutations and closings in particular.

Here at Business Writing That Counts! we offer webinars, an online course, and on-site workshops that address this very issue. Contact us TODAY so we can help you avoid misunderstandings in your emails! 425.485.3221 or

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