Monday, I criticized the idea that email should be used for only data and facts, because email with emotional content “is so often misunderstood” according to Mr. Edward Muzio. As if facts can’t be misunderstood or that the written word can’t communicate emotional content effectively.
As Mr. Muzio points out, we communicate through more than words. Tone and facial and body expressions contribute to meaning. So do pheromones. Most of us are unaware of this while we’re speaking. Often communication fails  no matter what medium is used, and even if people have a common history or culture. I contend that misunderstandings are more common than we suppose. Fortunately, we are unaware of many of them. Blaming email for the failures that result from misunderstandings is like a prospector failing to find gold and blaming his mule.
Redundant communication systems, plasticity of meaning, and the relative unimportance of most of our communication saves us from more terrible consequences than we already have. Most everyday communication is mundane, without mortal consequences. Plasticity and redundancy means we can understand the gist of what someone is saying without having to understand it exactly. Normally, we understand well enough, if not perfectly.
Whatever medium we use, misunderstandings occur for any number of reasons. I find they occur most often because at least one of us has made a bad assumption about the other person. Common assumptions are about a person’s state of mind, willingness to understand, ability to understand, and veracity. If I assume you are telling me the truth, and that you want me to know something, but you’re lying or you don’t really want me to understand, well, there’s a problem. If you assume I’m really listening to you and not thinking about lunch, or that I have the vocabulary or experience to know what you mean, then there is, again, a problem. Most of the time we don’t have the inclination or wherewithal to analyze our attempts. However, if what you have to say is important, it does behoove you to consider the medium as well as the message.