Complex Made Simple

Do phrases like “As per my last email” and “As a reminder” irk you?

Miscommunication is at times unavoidable, even with the best intentions and perfect email etiquette in mind

Office workers spend about 2.5 hours a day reading, writing, and responding to emails Civil and even polite emails can be interpreted in different ways Emojis’ acceptance is growing with 61% of emoji users applying them at work

On any given day, I receive no less than 3 dozen emails, one-third of which I try to respond to.

About 5-10% of these get my blood boiling, for no particular reason. I’ve caught myself crafting cold-blooded responses to some of these, sometimes one press of a button too late.

Miscommunication is at times unavoidable, even with the best intentions and perfect email etiquette in mind.  

This is because email readers are often subject to what’s called “negative intensification bias”. They often read into messages negativity the sender didn’t intend, or they exaggerate even a hint of negativity.

Email mauling

Office workers spend about 2.5 hours a day reading, writing, and responding to emails. Most report, at least occasionally, receiving emails they’d describe as offensive or disrespectful. In one study, 91% reported receiving such emails from their boss.

Email entails delayed feedback, increasing the chances of misunderstanding, whereas with face-to-face communication, we’re better able to monitor and repair misunderstandings in real-time.

Quick email etiquette advice includes being cautious with humor and letting the email simmer before sending.

Civil and even polite emails “We certainly appreciate that you are very busy,” or “Just wondering why no update has been received,” can be interpreted in different ways, and mean different things to different people.

Email phrases to avoid

Here’s a look at the 5 most common phrases employees use that actually make them passive-aggressive and petty:

1-  “Per my last email…”

What it actually means: “You didn’t really read what I wrote. Pay attention this time!”

2- “For future reference…”

What it actually means: “Let me correct your blatant ‘mistake’ that you already knew was wrong.”

3- “Bumping this to the top of your inbox…”

What it actually means: “You’re my boss [or employee]. This is the third time I’ve asked you. I need you to get this done.”

4- “Just to be sure we’re on the same page…”

What this actually means: “I’m going to make sure that everyone who refers to this email in the future knows that I was right all along.

5- “Going forward…”

What it actually means: “Do not ever do that again.”

Michelle Myers, Supervisor at Clinical Health Services, Aetna wrote on LinkedIn: “I do not feel stating ‘just a gentle reminder’, or ‘per my last email’ is aggressive. I do agree with not responding or writing an email when angry or frustrated. I do write emails, walk away from them, and re-read them before sending to make sure I am in a calmer, more rational state of mind.”

Helen Wall, instructor for Power BI and AWS believed nothing is worse than someone misspelling her name or anyone else’s, especially if it’s visible in the email address itself.

“Also, repeating back what you understood is a necessity to avoid miscommunications,” she said.

Oh, and there are others. How about a polite “Thanks for your patience.” It means “Sorry I’m late with this,” but thanking someone’s patience is sometimes also testing it when time is critically short and you’re massively behind.

Important messaging stats

According to Nick Morgan, author of ‘Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World,’ people think others understand their messages 90% of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50%.

Recipients of a two-word email or text such as “nice job” or “great work” interpret the message as sarcastic 60% of the time, Morgan writes.

Are emojis a solution?

Emojis’ acceptance is growing with 61% of emoji users applying them at work, with six million custom emojis created. Emojis help clarifies emotional intent. Research indicates that the same part of the brain that processes human faces also processes emojis.  Emojis help communicators manage the emotional tone of digital messages. And emojis help recipients interpret the tone of digital messages.

For example, an “Ok” text from someone can be interpreted in many different ways: acceptance, apathy, submission, or passive-aggressiveness. But an “Ok” with a smiling face is easily interpreted as positive acceptance.

The proper use of emojis helps people form relationships and understand one another, according to a recent review. When emojis are used at work, the majority of emoji users feel they positively impact likability (78%) and credibility (63%), and make positive news more sincere (74%), according to Adobe.

In general, the emerging generations (Millennials and Gen Z) place more value on using emojis, while established generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers) tend to view emojis as unprofessional and counterproductive.

Professionals over 45 years old are more likely to say that emoji use at work is inappropriate, according to SurveyMonkey data.  Only 15% think emojis improve workplace communication. 29% say it makes colleagues look unprofessional. That number jumps to 36% when upper management uses them.

Conversely, young professionals overwhelming view emojis as appropriate for work, and only 17% of them consider emoji use unprofessional, according to the same SurveyMonkey data. Gen Z uses emojis exclusively in text messaging 39% of the time. 58% of Gen Z feel emojis best express their emotions, compared to 48% of Millennials, 34% of Gen X, and 37% of Boomers.