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Email and Text Messaging: A Greater Source of Conflict Than We Realize

From Mervyn Malamed’s listserv

Conflict can develop when both sides share a common goal and are not in opposition to each other. 

The intrinsic subject may indeed not be the cause of a rift. By virtue of its convenience and accessibility, this tool has nudged other forms of communication to the side-line. It’s quick, it’s easy and the repercussions can be disastrous: Electronic Mail.

Email is ubiquitous. Elementary schools have even set up G-Mail accounts for their students. It’s seen as progressive when in fact text based communication is regressive.

“Embolism-mail” obstructs the natural flow of discourse between people, stifling communication.

The pie chart above breaks down the components of communication. It shows that words only make up 7% of our communications. As you compose a new message you are starting your discourse with a 93% disadvantage.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.         Peter Drucker

In a neutral situation an email or text is sent and received without incident. Yet, with underlying tension between the parties, it will be exacerbated.

Shielded by our screens we operate under a false sense of security. We cannot see or hear our opponent’s wrath, so we are invincible.

That is until receiving a reply. So the destructive exchange is played out from one mail to the next, and emoticons do not serve as a visual cue. Whereas with face-to-face interaction, it’s easy to see the problem you are causing

The word ‘okay’, expressed over email may be perceived as hostile and curt. In person, the word ‘okay’ could be the icebreaker that is needed for conciliation. A smile, a nod of the head or a change in tone will unblock the communication arteries quicker than a dozen emails.

Optimal goals are attained by face-to-face communication as first prize, Skype/ video conferencing as second, telephone as third, and email or text, last. Communication stripped of eye contact, body language, tone and gestures is prone to miscommunication.

When using email respect one cardinal rule. Do not send a hostile email until the following day. By that time you’ve calmed down, turned off the Caps Lock and are able to re-word your thoughts. In fact, chances are you may not even send the email at all.

You may just pick up your phone and say, “I know we are both on tight schedules, but we really should meet and sort this out”.


Mervyn Malamed

Mervyn Malamed is an Organisational Conflict Management professional. Employees who are equipped to cope with crises and conflict carry a positive mind-set to friends, family and more. This exponential effect rubs off; it enhances lives and comes around to further enrich that same employee, co-workers, and the organisation itself.  With… MORE >

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