Leadership

Survey: Email Causes Workplace Confusion, Resentment

By / Jul 5, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

New research suggests you should mind your manners and notice personality-type cues when sending and receiving email at work.

Think about your work email inbox for a second. How does it make you feel?

According to a recent survey of 500 working professionals—conducted by Sendmail, Inc., an email-solutions company, and CPP, Inc., providers of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—64 percent said email has resulted in tension or some other unintended consequence at the office. Still, 92 percent said they value email as a communication tool.

“We wanted to take the approach that, of course email is a valuable tool—which the survey told us—but one that comes with some challenges,” said Jennifer Overbo, director of product strategy for CPP. “Overall we found that there are definitely, from an email etiquette perspective, things that everyone can agree to, that we all need to be mindful of when communicating via email.”

Some of respondents’ biggest pet peeves included no reply from recipients (51 percent), too many reply-alls (25 percent), emails that are confusing or vague (19 percent), misinterpreted messages (14 percent), and too much email in general (18 percent).

The survey also took into account different personality types and how they might affect the way a person composes email or perceives a message that he or she receives.

“Personality type and the way that you approach the world around you influences how you communicate and how you work with others,” said Overbo. “It would be perfect if you knew others’ personality types, but most of us don’t walk around with that type of information. But if you can take cues as to how others might appreciate receiving information, that can help alleviate a lot of unintended frustration or confusion.”

For example, extroverts tend to write long, conversational email, which a recipient might delete before reading fully. “If that sounds like you, take the time to go over your email and make sure all of those words are necessary,” Overbo said. The opposite generally holds true for introverts, she added.

“Understanding who you are and how you typically prefer to communicate, you get a sense of what the opposite of that would be,” she said. “Be conscientious, be as clear as possible with the information you’re putting in the email, and be concise. Don’t read too much into it in terms of tone, and recognize that sometimes people are just trying to get to the point quickly to be respectful of people’s time.”

Ultimately, Overbo said, email etiquette can be boiled down to remembering the things you do when communicating verbally.

“A lot of that is just mirroring the kind of communication that you’re receiving from somebody,” she said. “If someone sends you an email that’s short and brief, that’s a great cue that they would prefer a response that is similar to that. And there might be times—if you have a lot of detail that you need to get across clearly—that picking up the phone or sending an instant message is just a better way to go.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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