Ambiguity in Emails

Alien Head at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico
Alien Head at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico

Ambiguity in writing is one of those lovely things that happens when you come across a thought and are not really sure what the writer meant. I see an alien head in the above photo (alright, it’s not a piece of writing, but you get the point), but I am not really sure if a bona fide alien head is what the artist intended to portray on that rock, although I will caveat that this site is only about 120m away from Roswell. Perhaps it is a de-quilled porcupine, or a deflated puffer fish, though what a puffer fish is doing in the middle of the desert is another issue.

I recently came across an email that a colleague had sent on in regards to a job for which they’d applied. The hiring manager noted that they wanted the applicant to interview with several other managers, individually, and then after a meeting of all the department heads, the hiring manager would put a letter of offer together.

My colleague’s question to me was: did I get the job or not? The use of the phrase ‘letter of offer,’ would suggest that the applicant got the job. However, short of spelling out something to the effect of “I am pleased to share that you are the successful applicant for X position,” it’s not quite clear if my colleague has a new job on the horizon. I hope he does, for his sake, of course, but I also wish that there was more clarity and less ambiguity in emails, particularly when you are dealing with someone’s future; my poor friend will now be waiting with bated breath through the weekend as to whether their future will be going down a new path in two weeks time.

So this is really a reminder to you that when you are typing up an important email, ask yourself, will the recipient know exactly what I mean, or do I have to count on their ESP ability to sort out the meaning behind my words? Just remember that not everyone has ESP, and of those who do, most don’t believe in ESP anyhow.


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