Even a light-hearted joke can come off as rude or offensive in an email. Sometimes, part of the message gets lost without physically hearing it over the phone or through video conferencing, and can cause miscommunication problems and tension in the workplace.
According to the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology, a faculty member at NYU learned this lesson the hard way. After organizing a meet and greet for a potential new hire, the professor sent out an email invitation that stated, "Talking to the candidate is not required, just don't embarrass us." Many recipients were upset with the sarcastic statement because they misinterpreted her meaning.
Researchers suggest that the problem traces back to an individual's natural egocentric behavior. The sender assumes that the recipient "hears" the message in the same way that she hears it. But, a person's tone and vocal inflections can alter the meaning entirely, and those types of factors are not easily transpired through email messages.
When dealing with emotional material in in the workforce, setting up a video conference can avoid any problems of miscommunication, and harmless jokes may not be taken offensively.