Monday, October 8, 2007

News Flash: Email Can Be Misunderstood!

The New York Times printed an article by Daniel Goleman in which he discusses the inability of email to communicate emotion effectively.

This is not news to anyone who has used an emoticon to re-assure that the snarky observation in their email is sarcastic, but Goleman adds a scientific component.

We have all heard the statistic that 80% of communication is non-verbal. Email is bereft of any visual cues or body language, so there is a significant opportunity for misinterpretation. Goleman suggests that email promotes misunderstanding:

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.

Every form of communication has its place. Email is a killer app. The telephone is a staple. Face to face meetings are the best way to communicate but also the most expensive. A relatively inexpensive way to get the full visual experience to accompany an important message is a video webcast.

When a face to face meeting is not an option, like for a message delivered to a global enterprise, there are some messages that can only be entrusted to a video internet broadcast.

Goleman quotes Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program:

“When you communicate with a group you only know through electronic channels, it’s like having functional Asperger’s Syndrome — you are very logical and rational, but emotionally brittle,” Professor Shirky said.

“I’m part of a far-flung distributed network that at one point was designing a piece of software for sharing medical data; we worked mostly by conference calls and e-mail, and it was going nowhere. So we finally said we’d all fly to Boston and get together for two days, just sit in a room and hash it out.”

During that meeting, the team got an enormous amount of work done. And, Professor Shirky recalls, “because the synchronization by e-mail was so much better after the face-to-face piece, we actually hit the launch date.”

Video conferencing has its place, but that is still a point to point technology. The most efficient and cost effective way to deliver an effective message across a large enterprise is to use the video conferencing room as a "studio" to create a video webcast and stream it to the entire organization - time shifting if necessary to manage bandwidth usage.

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