10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1

Dear, Anita,

I work remotely and sent this email to my boss. He got very upset and I don’t know why.

Hi [Boss], I haven’t been successful reaching you by phone, so I’ll try email instead. Could you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project] that I requested last week?

I almost lost my job because he said I was being insubordinate. What do you think, Anita? Did I do anything wrong?

Dear, Wrong Wavelength,

I recently had a text message misunderstanding with a family member, so your question really hits home. It sounds like you accidentally offended your boss when you insinuated (in his mind) that he does not return phone calls and unprofessionally ignores requests.

Albert Mehrabian, a 1960s researcher, found that communication is 7 percent verbal (words), 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in electronic communications, it’s no wonder there are so many crossed wires!

To avoid misunderstandings – or worse, offense – keep my Ten Commandments of Email Communication in mind. We’ll start with five this week, and bring the second electronic stone tablet next week.

1. Keep it short. Nobody has time for long rambling emails, and you may lose your audience before you get to the point. Summarize briefly, while still relaying relevant information. Use attachments to supplement your email outline.

Lets_Eat_Grandma_Save_Lives_Meme2. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple mistake could change your message dramatically – especially for poor grandma.

3. Be clear and avoid double negatives. Look at this muddle with a quadruple negative: “Unless you fail to inform us in advance of your inability to attend the training event, you will not be billed for those presentations which you cannot avoid missing.” Will I or won’t I be charged for the event if I don’t cancel?

4. Be specific. If you add a comment or opinion about a statement in an email, make sure it’s clear which point you are remarking on. Sometimes, it is helpful to respond under each statement or question, and change the text color of your responses.

5. Be careful with humor. Your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm may just come across as just plain mean when not accompanied by your charming smirk. Electronic joking is best employed with co-workers you know quite well.

Stay tuned for email commandments 6 through 10 next week!

Readers: Here’s a fun challenge for you! Rewrite the email excerpt in Wrong Wavelength’s question to improve the tone and avoid misunderstandings. Post your best rephrasing by leaving a reply in the comments.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nancy
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 11:10:02

    Hey Boss,
    I hope it’s ok to email you.
    Can you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project]?
    Thanks in Advance,

    The 2nd mistake was pointing out that she had previously asked. She made him feel bad/guilty twice in the one email.



  2. alyssa
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 13:11:34

    Dear Boss,

    Please email me the newest statistics for the project I am working on. I am at a point where they would be useful for me to continue.

    Thank you,

    Employee name



  3. Instituto Estelar Bilingüe
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 15:37:15

    Great advice!



  4. Tiffany Lieu
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 12:21:07

    I think this boss was looking for professionality where minimum explanations are needed. I guess it was not a good idea to repeat what he is aware of, that is, being unable to reach the person so many times and so is contacting via email.

    Hi Boss,

    Need the newest statistics for the project requested last week. Thank you.



  5. Teresa
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 10:20:17

    Hi (Boss),

    I am emailing since you have been so busy I could not get you by phone.

    I have not received the new statistics for the (project). When you can, would you please forward them to me. If you have already done so, they must have gotten lost.

    Thank you,



  6. Alexis Quandt
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 10:19:26

    I so can relate to this.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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