A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Don't dispair if your e-mail does not bring about the desirable result

Recently an article from NYTimes caught my attention reporting that e-mail is often being mis-read by the recipient. This helps me to understand some of the issues I have with e-mail, particularly non-social ones.

The author discovers recent research points out the reason why e-mail is often mis-read is:
e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.
Still, if we rely solely on e-mail at work, the absence of a channel for the brain’s emotional circuitry carries risks. In an article to be published next year in the Academy of Management Review, Kristin Byron, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, finds that e-mail generally increases the likelihood of conflict and miscommunication.

One reason for this is that we tend to misinterpret positive e-mail messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended. Even jokes are rated as less funny by recipients than by senders.
On the upside, the familiarity that develops between sender and receiver can help to reduce these problems, according to findings by Joseph Walther, a professor of communication and telecommunication at Michigan State University. People who know each other well, it turns out, are less likely to have these misunderstandings online.
One way to overcome this as proposed by Professor Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program is:
a “banyan model,” after the Asian tree that puts down roots from its branches.

In this approach, he said, “you put down little roots of face-to-face contact everywhere, to strategically augment electronic communications.”

A final note from Professor Shirky:
“social software” like e-mail “is not better than face-to-face contact; it’s only better than nothing.”
So pick up the phone or walk around the cubicle.

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