Fix Email Miscommunication: Amplify Your Signal

Posted May 15, 2013 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

Admit it, we’ve all been there. At some point in your career, you’ve said something like these frustrated statements:

  • What do you mean, you don’t understand? I emailed it to you!
  • Didn’t you get my email?
  • Seriously, we had a whole email exchange about this!
  • Let me read this email to you, and you tell me if you understand it.

You could be the world’s most skilled communicator, and still have had hundreds of terrible miscommunications online and via email in your career. It’s just too hard to convey tone, emotion, and to be truly clear in email communication. Keith Ferrazi, literally one of my favorite authors of all time and the incredible Never Eat Alone, recently wrote the article “How to Avoid Virtual Miscommunication” for Harvard Business Review. One of his pieces of common miscommunications stood out to me.

Amplify the signal. We often communicate less information than we think we are, a syndrome psychologists call signal amplification bias. Virtual teams, lacking contextual cues that the other person hasn’t understood what we’re trying to say, often hear only too late that “I thought it was obvious that…” or, “I didn’t think I needed to spell that out.”

How to avoid signal amplification bias? Spell things out! Don’t just say, “Circle back with me.” Do you want final input to a decision or just want to be informed of the decision after it’s been made? For important communications, Yael Zofi advises her executive clients to use more than one medium. So, for example, if you have a phone conversation about possible delays in a project, follow up with an e-mail to minimize misunderstandings.

All too often, we think we’re being clear both in person and via email and, in fact, we’re not. We expect others to pick up on our “signals” without remembering that what we’re giving off are our signals, not theirs. Take Keith’s advice, and instead of saying “Circle back with me,” take it a step further and say, “Please check in with me in an hour to let me know you’re on the right track.” Clarity counts in online and email communications!

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."