Blog post

“Please don’t read anything into this reply other than exactly what I’ve written.”

By Craig Roth | July 02, 2010 | 0 Comments

CommunicationAttention Management

I learned quite a lot from the responses to my posting “Sent from my iPhone”. As I’ve always mentioned in my writing on Attention Management, expectations play a large role in determining which attention management techniques will be acceptable. Some people clearly are in a role or have established a pattern that necessitates quick cellphone responses. 

For new communication channels, generational issues impact usage patterns as well (from one of the comments I learned that I am old).

Some of the comments showed me how the “excuse my brevity” signature can provide an excuse to give the short replies one always wanted to, but didn’t feel were culturally acceptable in desktop email.

Take this email for example: “Did we confirm on the 17th with Sue and Chuck?  Last I saw Sue had said she wasn’t sure, but then Chuck said it was OK and we should go ahead, so I’m not sure if that meant he’d checked with Sue or he was saying she’s not needed (but I think she is).”

If you know the meeting is confirmed and don’t feel like getting into the backstory, cellphone etiquette makes this easy: “Yes.  (sent from my iPhone)”.

But in email just saying “Yes.” might seem a bit terse as it ignores the sender’s obvious interest in the backstory.  So one may feel the need to address how Chuck checked with Sue and they agreed it’s ok, and that you agree Sue is needed.  Whether that extra information has real value other than just padding out the response depends on the situation.

This is human interaction (not a cellphone talking to an email client), so hidden messages in responses are inescapable.  What one chooses to respond to or ignore, how quickly a response is received, time spent on punctuation and spelling, and tone are inexorably attached to the text of an email.  The intentions of the sender may be misinterpreted by the receiver.  In fact, one reason that messages may be padded is to provide tone information that helps with proper interpretation and, accordingly, decreases the chances of reading things between the lines that are not intended. 

I believe people have a tendency to interact more transactionally (like a computer or a form being filled out) with people they don’t like or don’t want to talk to, so computer-like responses can raise the thought that someone doesn’t want to talk to you.  One signature that will never work is “Please don’t read anything into this reply other than exactly what I’ve written.”

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