Offended by an innocent work email

ll of us have heard tips for “netiquette” – those helpful hints for avoiding offense or miscommunication in the messages we send. But neither good intentions nor perfect email etiquette will necessarily avoid problems. 

This is because email readers are often subject to what’s called “negative intensification bias”. They often read into messages negativity the sender didn’t intend, or they exaggerate even a hint of negativity.

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The bias that makes innocent emails seem offensive

bbc.com

  • Given the volume of workplace emails, an occasional negative exchange is probably inevitable. However, certain features of email may make matters worse, increasing the likelihood of miscommunication and conflict escalation.
  • For example, compared to face-to-face communication, email entails delayed feedback. In face-to-face communication we’re better able to monitor and repair misunderstandings in real time.
  • Emails also involve reduced “social presence” – the perception the other person is real and “there” in the interaction. Delayed feedback increases the chances of misunderstanding, and low social presence can lower inhibitions and encourage angry replies or “flaming”.

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