Think Your E-mails Are Clear? Maybe Not

ByABC News
February 16, 2006, 3:44 PM

Feb. 17, 2006 — -- If you think you're an expert at communicating via e-mail and instant message, you may want to reconsider.

In reality most people are often sending and receiving mixed signals in their electronic communications, according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"We've known for a long time that when we design our speech, we do so egocentrically," said Justin Kruger, one of the paper's authors and an associate professor at NYU. "We imagine how our utterances will sound from the vantage point, essentially, of ourselves.

"We assume that if we understand what we're saying, the person on the other end of our communication will as well."

But studies show that's not always the case.

Though text-based communication has been around for millenia, e-mail and instant message are still evolving, so be warned that there may be a few bruised egos and unnecessary tiffs to deal with along the way.

David Noce said he was "totally polite" when he sent out an e-mail to a co-worker to probe her abilities and ask her to complete a task.

"I started off in a friendly tone, 'Hey, regarding such and such, we need such and such, if you have time today, otherwise please let me know, etc,'" he recalled in an e-mail. "I was totally polite in my e-mail, and I even gave it a friendly tone with 'hey', as in the colloquial expression for 'hello.'"

To Noce -- an intern in the law department of a multinational company at the time -- the message was totally innocuous, so what happened next came as a complete surprise.

"Next thing I know I got a phone message from the lawyer I was apprenticed to who told me the paralegal had forwarded him the message, and he thought it was inappropriate and rude and that it wouldn't be tolerated," he said.