How often does it happen that you get an email from a colleague at work that completely ruins your day? Email has always been an insensitive medium. Its mechanical tone of voice has led to humans evolving a whole other language of emoticons to try to reinstate some form of positive emotional contact with their recipients. Positive emotions are an essential part of humanity and positive morale is good for business. Senior managers place great value on building a healthy team spirit. Even in today's budget conscious times organizations still invest reasonable sums on so-called "team-building" days. Yet all this can be undermined in an instant thanks to a single thoughtless email.
In a new survey looking at all forms of business communication, jointly conducted with CPP, publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI) assessment, we found email is the biggest offender when it comes to creating resentment and confusion in the workplace.
According to 43 percent of the survey respondents, of all the communication technologies in the workplace, email is the most likely to create resentment between senders and receivers. Texting also ranked high on the list of offenders at 32 percent.
While 92 percent agreed email is a valuable communication and collaboration tool, 64 percent reported having either sent or received an email that resulted in unintended anger or confusion. Top reasons for this include: failure to respond (51 percent), too many "Reply Alls" (25 percent), messages that were confusing or vague (19 percent), emails that are too long (12 percent) and too much email in general (18 percent).
But as CPP points out, email isn't the real culprit here. We users are. And it's not just about adhering to standard email etiquette, because everyone has their own ideas on how email should be used and when. The study stresses the importance of both senders and receivers combining personality awareness with proper email etiquette to avoid rubbing each other the wrong way. Extraverts, for example, who tend to send long and frequent emails, should try to trim the fat.
Another thing to consider is age. The addition of younger workers who grew up on the Internet is generally seen as creating a kind of generational tug-of-war in the workplace. But, as our survey showed, you should not make any rash assumptions. Perhaps not surprisingly 18- to 29-year-olds are 13 percent less likely than 30- to 40-year-olds to be angered by email but 45 percent more likely to be offended by text. For me, however, the more surprising statistic about the SMS generation was that 7 percent are more annoyed by bad grammar than all other age groups. And only 12 percent are more likely to value faster replies.
So thirty years after our founder, Eric Allman, helped to make business email what it is today, people are still struggling to craft clear messages that don't generate confusion or resentment. Some examples of good practice can be found here. By being more aware of your own preferences and those of your colleagues, it should be possible to adopt email practices that benefit everyone.
In summary, take the trouble to understand the personalities of those you work with and remember their preferences when you email them. It can lead to a harmonious working atmosphere and greater spirit of cooperation. Check out this infographic to see how MTBI techniques can help to banish workplace blues.
*More than 500 working professionals in the US, aged 18 years and over, participated in the Email Personalities Survey, conducted online during the month of March, 2013.