Email is actually superior to voicemail for emotions

Email is always with youEvery day almost 183 billion emails are sent; we must love email. In spite of the fact that we can phone each other, write letters, use Skype, send instant messages, or meet each other face-to-face, we appear to prefer email.

Yet, email has significant limitations. There is no tone of voice and no body language – two essential components in human communication. Even so, we appear almost to prefer email to other kinds of communication.

Now, new research has the answer. A study conducted at California State University used a series of experiments investigating the use of email and voicemail in two different scenarios – normal work style messages and romantic messages. In both instances, the researchers found that email triggers a greater emotional arousal in the sender than does voicemail.

In other words, as senders of email we feel more aroused by using email than we do by using the telephone.

However, the study also found that the emotional content of emails was more negative than that of voicemails. This was the case whether or not the messages were work-related or romantic.

For the first time, this research reveals why we are almost addicted to email. It makes us feel emotionally aroused when we send it.

But we have to realise that the recipient is more likely to feel negative than if we were to use the telephone. The emotional content of email messages in the study had more negative emotional words than the content of the voicemails.

So, we feel good by sending emails, but the person to whom we are writing is more likely to feel negative than if we had picked up the phone.

Why do we love emails?

The researchers have come up with an interesting argument as to why we seem to prefer sending emails and what triggers that increased emotional arousal in the sender. With emails, you can edit things, go over them, rewrite them and so on. That means as the originator of the email we are more engaged with the message itself, leading to more arousal. However, with voicemails it is a one-hit situation – the same as phone calls. You cannot edit what you say in a phone call, and hence we appear to have a lower engagement with the content and, therefore, feel less aroused by it.

This argument clearly has merit, and it explains why the content of an email is less emotionally positive than phone calls. When we go over and edit what we are saying in an email we can refine it so that it says exactly what we want – removing, therefore, all those positive emotional “filler” words that we use in speaking. Recent studies have shown that “um” and “er” in normal conversation carries emotional value. They appear to indicate alertness, and this transmits high emotional value to the recipient. When we edit our speech and cut those words out, we become less emotionally engaging to the listener. With emails, we edit out such wording, which we might include in a voicemail, and, therefore, the message we send is perceived more negatively.

How to overcome the limitation of email

So, what can you do if your emails make you feel good but are likely to cause the recipient to feel negative? Email breeds email; if you are sent an email, you are more likely to reply by email. So, step one in ensuring you trigger the positive emotions you want is to stop and think for a moment before you reply. Would it be better if I picked up the phone? Do I have to reply via email? Think before replying is one answer.

Another thing to do when you have to use email is to write conversationally. Avoid editing and over-writing. Instead, just write what you would say to the person. This will help you raise the amount of emotional wording in your email, thereby improving the way it is received. It might even be a good idea to get something like Dragon Naturally Speaking and simply dictate all your emails.

To discover how to use email effectively you need to read Chapter 4 of my latest book, .

2 thoughts on “Email is actually superior to voicemail for emotions”

  1. Dear Graham

    Business is increasingly international these days and I find that many of my non-English contacts do NOT like using email, especially if they feel their level of English is not up to scratch. As a former journalist and headline writer I use your tips to engage readers in emails — sometimes to no avail.
    As a teacher of English and communications, I work a lot in Turkey and find that Turkish business people
    are slow to respond to an email even if they have asked for information. I’m told by business friends that they are notoriously slow in responding to emails even in their own language.
    Some people prefer the phone and, better still, face to face meetings to email. Do have any studies on nations which are reluctant to embrace email? Do you have techniques for overcoming these difficulties with speakers of other languages?
    Thank you
    P.S. I really enjoy your blogs

    • Hi Nick

      Thanks for your kind comments about my blog; much appreciated.

      I think your point about cultural differences is very important. The web, of course, is global and we can easily fall into the trap of believing that everyone else around the world uses the Internet in the same way as we do in our own nation. As you say, that is not the case.

      There are some studies looking at cultural differences, so you have given me an idea as to a future blog post…! Thank you. I’ll check out the research and I’ll write something on it as soon as I can.

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