The other day my web designer, Diane Varner, uploaded new information about upcoming classes to my website; then she emailed me to tell me she had finished. But when I looked at the page, I saw that the classes and dates she had posted were from 2006. Yikes!
I phoned Diane right away to ask her to fix the problem. Here is part of our telephone conversation:
Lynn: Diane, somehow the wrong information got uploaded, something from last year. Please check it out. [I pause for Diane to look at the web page on her computer in California; then I continue.] Do you see? The classes listed are all from last year!
Diane: Is that a problem?
Lynn, then Diane burst into laughter.
This brief exchange illustrates what cannot be done successfully in email. What created a lovely, humorous moment were our warm relationship, the slightly whimsical tone in Diane’s voice, and perfect timing.
If I had emailed Diane about the 2006 classes uploaded in error and she had replied in email "Is that a problem?" I would have wondered:
- Why doesn’t she understand what I am talking about?
- Am I misunderstanding her?
- Is she joking or being sarcastic?
Some email writers try to succeed with remarks like "Is that a problem?" using smiley faces and other emoticons. But emoticons are themselves subject to misinterpretation.
The safest way to proceed in email is straightforwardly–without humor, sarcasm, or irony. You can still enjoy a good laugh in a spoken exchange.
For more on email misinterpretation, read this entry: "Email and Your Ego."
Diane is one admirable human being–with a fine sense of humor.