Electronic Communication: Be Careful When Composing Sarcastic Messages

Posted filed under Communication Advice.

I like to think I’m a funny person, but I used to find myself trying to be funny or sarcastic in an email or text message and no one ever got the joke.

We’ve all received emails or text messages in the workplace that have made our eyebrows furrow with confusion, right? It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of an electronic communication exchange. Unfortunately, emails and text messages don’t come with a how-to guide of understanding the sender’s body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.

A research study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that online messages are misinterpreted more than 50 percent of the time and that senders believe their tone will be properly interpreted 80 percent of the time.

With that being said, here are a few steps I recommend before hitting send:

  • Make sure you build a rapport with the person before joking or being sarcastic.
  • Use italics, bold, underline, exclamation points, punctuation, etc. to put emphasis on a phrase or word, but be careful not to overuse.
  • Don’t use all capital letters. PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE YELLING.
  • Don’t use LOLs or TTYLs unless you’re talking to your BFF Jill, or you have a very casual relationship with the person.
  • Use emoticons such as the smiley face or wink face only if you have a casual relationship with the recipient. Emoticons don’t work for every personality type.
  • Avoid getting into negative or emotional conversations. You never know what kind of mood the person is in on the other side of the computer screen or cell phone, and some things are better said face-to-face or during a phone conversation.
  • If you think the other person won’t understand what you’re trying to say, have someone else read it over, and make sure the message makes sense before you send.

Have an experience where you or someone else misinterpreted a sarcastic email or text? Share with us in the comments.

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Andrea Pecoraro is a senior account executive, social media at Identity, focusing on integrating social media strategy with traditional communications efforts to help companies build brand awareness, create new customer relationships and grow their business.

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