Assume Positive Intent

COVID-19 has forced people to work from home and as a consequence, we are communicating via email more than ever. The potential for miscommunication has never been higher.

The problem with email is it leaves a lot of room for assumptions for both the sender and the reader. In my experience, there are two areas of communication that create frustration for coworkers, leadership, and employees. They are miscommunication and misinterpretation of a message.

For example, if someone sends a seemingly rude email, our first reaction might assume they have rude intentions and may even be trying to embarrass us to the people copied. However, not much good can come from these assumptions. An equally rude reaction can cause further deterioration. On the other hand, tremendous good can come from assuming positive intent.

There is a phrase, “Give people the benefit of the doubt.” The key is to make this a mindset at all times, which will force you to ask more questions to get clarity on the individual’s true intentions. I want to challenge you to put this to the test. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you will discover that people did not intend for you to interpret the message in a negative fashion. This exercise defuses the anger and frustration and fosters an even better working relationship.

It is up to you to take the lead in these situations. Negative intent is easily assumed especially with emails. Since they lack the human element, you miss out on the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language which account for over 90 percent of communication. Thus, the best way to counteract this is to assume positive intent and re-read the email. If in doubt, call them directly or if possible, walk up to your colleague’s desk to settle a misunderstanding rather than letting the situation escalate.

When you find yourself frustrated with one of your employees, take a moment to ensure that your reaction is one that you’d want them to emulate. There may come a time for coaching or corrective action, but that time should come only after you have all the facts.
Give your managers opportunities to learn and grow as well, whether through professional development courses or asking them to read management books centered on communication. It’s easy for managers to get caught up in their day-to-day tasks and to forget the impact that they can have on their team’s mindset and productivity.

Lastly, remember, when you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you. Here are some tips for better email communication:

• Get to the point quickly – People are busy. Be concise and avoid wordiness. Email is not a tool for conversation but rather a tool to relay facts. Using email as a way to have a conversation is bound to have miscommunication.

• Be clear – Do not use slang terms or acronyms and unnecessary abbreviations.
Use the right words to ensure the message written is the intended message. For example, sending “Let’s talk about this” when you meant to say “Great job, let’s talk about how we can implement your idea.”

• Use short sentences.

• Avoid repeating yourself.

• Make sure attachments are relevant and summarize the main points as needed in the email body.

• Proofread all emails out loud prior to sending and proofread for emotion. If it sounds harsh when you read it out loud, odds are it will be taken harshly.

• Depending on the audience, it is okay to use an emoji to help relay your intent, like a virtual body language message. They do help express your emotion behind the words, however, be careful using them with people you don’t know or upper management as they can seem less than professional if overdone.

• If you receive an email and it makes you angry, outraged or anxious, remember to re-read and assume positive intent. If necessary, ask questions or call the individual for clarity.