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In this digital day and age, email has become the number one communication method for the majority of workers. Email allows you to reach multiple people at once, cross borders, and hold an uninterrupted monologue, all from the comfort of your swivel desk chair.
In certain cases, however, what it doesn’t allow you to do is communicate effectively and achieve results. A study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people are much less persuasive over email than they think, as they underestimate the importance of nonverbal cues.
In the study, 45 participants were instructed to ask 10 strangers each to complete a brief survey. They all made the exact same request, using the same wording, but half of the participants used email, while the other half asked face-to-face.
Those who asked face-to-face were much more successful, with the study stating the face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than the emailed ones.
While the finding could be considered common sense, prior to making the requests all participants had a similar level of confidence in their chances of success, with both the emailing and face-to-face participants expecting half of the people they asked to agree.
According to the researchers, this indicates that people underestimate their own persuasiveness in a face-to-face conversation, while overestimating it when communicating via email. And while asking strangers to complete surveys isn’t part of most people’s job description, the findings do translate into some workplace advice.
“If your office runs on email and text-based communication, it’s worth considering whether you could be a more effective communicator by having conversations in person,” study co-author Vannessa K. Bohns, writes.
She admits that using text-based communication is often more convenient and comfortable than approaching someone in person, but points out this could be standing in your way of getting things done.
“If you overestimate the effectiveness of such media, you may regularly—and unknowingly—choose inferior means of influence.”
Photo / iStock