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Have you ever sent an email or text that was completely misinterpreted? This frequent occurrence is now supported by research. A study done by Riordan and Trichtinger and published in the journal Human Communication Research found that friends are no better at correctly interpreting emotional emails than complete strangers. Of course the participants in the study were confident that they and their friends could accurately discern the emotional content and intention. The researchers also concluded that emoticons, all caps, or repeated exclamation points did not have a positive effect on accuracy. Digital communication is an ever increasing form of interaction, yet the expression of emotion is often lost or misinterpreted. Even if the emotion is accurately identified, the intensity level may be misperceived.
Most people rely on texting and emails to communicate information and logistics, but they may also use this form of communication to confront conflict and deal with emotions. Some people have more conversation through electronic interactions than they do face-to-face. As the above study suggests, people are poor judges of their emotion-detection skills leading to misinterpretation even with phone calls. When we cannot see the other person the ability to pick up on subtle cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions make it difficult to effectively interpret emotion. In our relationships a simple misinterpretation of an intended emotion can lead to conflict, frustration, and feelings of isolation. Research has found that 93% of our communication is nonverbal so when we’re unable to express the nonverbal cues in a text or email, the chances are high that the message will be misperceived.
Certainly communication via text or email doesn’t have to be eliminated, but the content should be limited to sharing information, not addressing emotional issues. Communication through the phone, FaceTime, Skype, and certainly face-to-face are more effective, personal, and enable better perception of feelings. With more direct communication others stand a better chance of understanding us and responding constructively. In essence, what you say is less important than how you say it. Save yourself the frustration and annoyance by picking up the phone or talking with the person directly instead of relying on a less than optimal form of communication through a device.