“I never said you were beautiful”

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Or why you should never use email to resolve a conflict

I recently had lunch with Marc Grossfield, the founder and CEO of Aviv 613, a new premium Vodka brand that is being launched, and a client of First The Trousers client. We were talking about email communication and the fact that an email can so easily be misunderstood, something we all know and yet all so often forget. Marc shared with me this story which really resonated with me and which I think will resonate with you too. So I want to share it here.

The story goes as follow: Imagine sending an email to someone that reads “I never said you were beautiful”.  Six simple words that seem harmless, but six words that can give the sentence six very different meanings, some positive some neutral and some negative, depending on which word the reader emphasizes:

  1. I never said you were beautiful. But someone else might have said it.
  2. I never said you were beautiful. Not even once.
  3. I never said you were beautiful. I may have thought it. I may have written it in an email. But I never said it.
  4. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said someone else or your friend is but not that you
  5. I never said you were I may have said you are beautiful. And in fact, I think you still are.
  6. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said many other things (positive or negative) but I never called you beautiful.

The point is that, especially in case of conflict or tension between two people, each party can easily default to the most negative meaning and read the worst into a message, especially if it comes via email.

This story acts as good reminder that in order to resolve a tension or conflict we’re better off trying to resolve it face to face or over the phone, rather than over email.

Have you ever been in a situation where either you or the recipient of your email completely misinterpreted the meaning of the email? I know I have. Often. If so, tell us about it.

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