A new study finds that people significantly overestimate the ability of themselves and others to accurately understand the intended tone of online text communications:
Those who sent the messages predicted that nearly 80 percent of the time their partners would correctly interpret the tone. In fact the recipients got it right just over 50 percent of the time.
“People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they ‘hear’ the tone they intend in their head as they write,” Epley explains.
At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Despite this, the research subjects thought they accurately interpreted the messages nine out of 10 times.
The reason for this is egocentrism, or the difficulty some people have detaching themselves from their own perspective, says Epley. In other words, people aren’t that good at imagining how a message might be understood from another person’s perspective.
This is a good case for the value of adding emoticons to your online communications, though such usage is often frowned upon for more formal communication. Maybe our younger Internet-savvy cohorts figured this out already.