Preoccupations E-Mail Is Easy to Write (and to Misread)
By DANIEL GOLEMAN The New York Times October 7, 2007
AS I was in the final throes of getting my most recent book into print, an employee at the publishing company sent me an e-mail message that stopped me in my tracks.
I had met her just once, at a meeting. We were having an e-mail exchange about some crucial detail involving publishing rights, which I thought was being worked out well. Then she wrote: "It's difficult to have this conversation by e-mail. I sound strident and you sound exasperated."
At first I was surprised to hear I had sounded exasperated. But once she identified this snag in our communications, I realized that something had really been off. So we had a phone call that cleared everything up in a few minutes, ending on a friendly note.
The advantage of a phone call or a drop-by over e-mail is clearly greatest when there is trouble at hand. But there are ways in which e-mail may subtly encourage such trouble in the first place.
This is becoming more apparent with the emergence of social neuroscience, the study of what happens in the brains of people as they interact. New findings have uncovered a design flaw at the interface where the brain encounters a computer screen: there are no online channels for the multiple signals the brain uses to calibrate emotions.
Face-to-face interaction, by contrast, is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.