The Danger Of Email

Welcome to the More Than Sound Podcast. In this episode, Daniel Goleman talks about the dangers of communicating by email, with Anthony Gell of the Business Voice.

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Anthony Gell- Daniel, you talk about how important it is to bring consciousness back into emotion, to sort of push time between impulse and action is critical before you react. Is that why emails can be dangerous?

Daniel Goleman- When we’re face to face with someone, part of brain, which I describe in the book Social Intelligence and then more deeply in the series Wired to Connect, the part of the brain called the social brain, is monitoring person we’re with continually, moment to moment, microsecond to microsecond, and telling us, unconsciously, “Well, this person is responding that way to what you just did, so what you should do next is the following to keep things smooth, harmonious, on track, on the same page.” This is what makes interactions go smoothly, this part of the brain. That part of brain, however, is crippled online. When you’re sitting there in front of your video screen there is no feedback loop. All you have is the words you send. However, there is a sort of optical illusion in the mind where you assume that all of your little emotional signals that go with whatever you say or do face to face,  are going along with your email, but they’re not. And there is an actual negativity bias in email where senders think that a message was positive, but that’s because they assume all the other cues went along. It’s an unconscious assumption. Receivers think that positive email was more neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, receivers tend to think it’s more negative. In other words there is a negativity skew to email, generally. That’s baseline.

But then there’s another problem:

Very often in face-to-face interaction you get an impulse to do something or say something and your social brain says, “Uh-uh-uh! That’s not going to be effective.” But that message never comes back to you when you’re sitting writing an email, because there’s no feedback loop. The result is what’s called flaming. Flaming has been known since the earliest days of email. It’s when you’re worked up about something, and you sit down and you furiously type up a message, you hit send. And for a split second you have a feeling of satisfaction, and then this morbid sense of, “Oh my god, why did I do that? Why did I say that?” hits you. That’s a flame. It’s a disaster. And it’s a disaster that would not have occurred face to face, most likely.