THE BLOG
01/13/2015 04:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Never Said You Were Beautiful'

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Here is a story that serial entrepreneur Marc Grossfield recently shared with me over lunch.

Imagine sending an email to someone that reads "I never said you were beautiful".

Six simple words that seem harmless, but six words that can give your sentence six very different meanings, some positive some neutral and some negative, depending on which word the reader chooses to emphasize:

1. I never said you were beautiful. But someone else might have said it.
2. I never said you were beautiful. Not even once.
3. I never said you were beautiful. I may have thought it. I may have written it in an email. But I never said it.
4. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said someone else or your friend is but not you
5. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said you are beautiful. And in fact, I think you still are.
6. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said many other things (positive or negative) but I never called you beautiful.

The point is that, especially in case of conflict or tension between two people, each party can easily default to the most negative meaning and read the worst into a message (and will), especially if it comes via email. And while we all know that email can so easily be misunderstood, we continue to use it as our main form of business communication. And make the same mistakes over and over again.

A way smarter approach would be to either try to resolve a situation face to face, or at the very least to reach to the phone.

Have you ever been in a situation where either you or the recipient of your email completely misinterpreted the meaning of the email? I know I have, often. If so, tell us about it.