How to Clarify Misunderstandings in an Email

by Sara Hickman

Email can be a difficult way to communicate with someone because you cannot see the person talking to you or hear the tone in their voice. Therefore, things can be taken out of context. When trying to resolve a problem or clear up a misunderstanding over email, it is important to be articulate and use appropriate, strong words to express your thoughts. It is easy to confuse sarcasm with rudeness over the Internet, so reread your email before sending it to the recipient.

Acknowledge a misunderstanding or miscommunication. If you are uncertain about the meaning of an email, ask questions. If you sent an email that was received in a negative way, assure the receiver that you did not intend to sound abrupt, dismissive, annoyed, or whatever other negative connotation was taken by the receiver. Clarify your meaning, and be certain to use polite statements, such as "please" and "thank you."

Reread the email to see where the misunderstanding could have occurred. Was the information in the email presented clearly, or was it ambiguous? If the misunderstanding involves data, deadlines or other expectations, put the pertinent details in a sentence. Then add additional information or comments. If you received an email with ambiguous expectations, ask questions.

Offer a way the two of you can resolve the issue, perhaps suggesting speaking about the matter over the phone or in person over coffee. Your generosity of time conveys your interest in maintaining a good relationship with other person.

Tip

  • No matter how busy you are, reread your emails before clicking the send button. Put yourself in the place of the email recipient and ask yourself if your intent is conveyed clearly. Begin with a greeting or end with a polite remark, to add warmth to the tone of the message. Remember that spoken words can be forgotten, but emails can live forever. In his article, "Don't Type at Me Like That: Email and Emotions," David F. Swink advises that you assess your relationship with the receiver and adjust your level of formality to match your relationship.

About the Author

Sara Hickman owns a preschool science-based entertainment business in the Greater Cincinnati area. She has a bachelor's degree in communication and psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

Photo Credits

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