When we meet with people or hear them on the phone, we get cues as to their intent and emotional state. It's much harder with words on a screen -- especially when you are communicating with people you don't know very well. But even individuals who are longtime colleagues can sometimes send messages that are easy to misinterpret. You can read a lot of negativity into a cryptic message. Here is an example from my own career.
I once had a client who used a collaboration platform to review art and copy. She was a harried person, doing a great deal of work with a number of agencies. Not well liked, I admit, though I didn't share the distaste. She just wasn't all that great with people, though her intentions weren't malicious in any way. And she made sure the invoices got paid on time. (That's nice.) We got an assignment that required a new white paper be ghosted in just two days. I sent a draft white paper to her for review and heard nothing back for a day. The following morning I received a four-word email:
Re: WhitepaperUnclear. Resubmit this AM.
After many years of working in marketing services, I flatter myself that I am pretty good at interpreting client comments. But that was mind-boggling. Oh, the midnight oil burned. And it was a good document, despite minimal direction. And now I was to rewrite the paper in a morning, with no idea as to why what had been delivered the day before was unacceptable?
I started penning a poison keyboard email. I spent about 45 minutes on it. Oh, the indignation. Oh, the personal inventory I took. And just as I was spell-checking it and dialing up the flames, I got a second email:
Re: WhitepaperPDF came through blank for some reason. Please resave the PDF and resubmit.
Instant messages can be even worse. "Do it now" can read like a request or a command from an overseer.
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1 The 5 types of terrible networkers
2 The top 4 consumer trends you need to know
3 The most meaningless (and hilarious) job titles on LinkedIn
4 The best social media campaigns of 2013
5 5 brands that were forced to apologize