visual cues make up the other 93 percent. This is why emails are so
often misunderstood. Ed Muzio of Group Harmonics suggests using email
only when you should: to convey facts and data, and when no emotion or
sensitive issues are involved.
Muzio: I m going to tell you why email starts fights.
It happens all the time. It starts out as a simple bit of information, turns first into a
discussion, then an argument. Finally, our inbox is full of emails back and
forth. No one knows what is going on. It is not an accident. In the late 1960s
a man named Dr. Albert Mehrabian did a study of how we communicate. He
concluded that there are three different areas of communication where information
is passed on.
The first is words. These are the words we use.
The second is tone or the sound of our voice, and
the third is visual–cues like how our face looks and how we are moving our body.
Now, Dr. Mehrabian concluded in his research that the distribution of information looked
The visual cues represent 55% of the information that gets transferred. The tone cues
represent 38% of the information, and the words represent only 7% of the
Now, since then, other people have argued over those exact percentages, but the message is
the same. Think about a presentation you have seen that was memorable and good.
You probably remember the overall message. That’s the whole pie. You probably
remember how the person looked, how they moved, what their energy was like.
That’s the visual and the tone, but I bet you couldn’t write the script of
exactly what they said. You don’t remember the exact words. It is the smallest
part of the information. That’s the problem with email. Email is all about the
Let’s say I sent you this email. The words are: I didn’t say you have an attitude problem.
What exactly do I mean? Is it I didn’t say you have an attitude problem?
Somebody else said it. Is it I didn’t say YOU had an attitude problem? I meant
your co‑worker. Or is it I didn’t say you had an ATTITUDE problem? I meant
you have a communication problem. The words aren’t enough to communicate the
message, and that is the problem with email. This is a terrible message to send in an email because it
isn’t clear what I mean.
What do you do about this? Well, the answer is simple.
You use email only when you should. If you are talking about facts, if you are talking
about data‑‑ when is the meeting? What are the directions to get there? What’s our agenda? What’s the new
policy? Excellent for email but draw the line there.
When you get into emotional content, when you get into sensitive issues, do not let email be
your answer. Stop it here and switch back over to in person or on the phone.
Remember, if you get on the phone, you pick up tone again. You pick up 38% of the
information. If you can get to the person in person, you get this 55% back as
well. Don’t make the mistake of using only 7% of the information only email to
solve a complex issue. It won’t work, and your email will start a fight.