Out with Greetings, In with Emoticons

February 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm 3 comments

In their article “Electronic Mail and Organizational Communication:  Does Saying ‘Hi’ Really Matter? “ Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Martha S. Feldman discuss a specific field study, which suggests that as the use of electronic mail is increased, overall organizational communication within a group is decreased.  They talk about the positive aspects of electronic mail, but want us to also see the negative aspects.  Finally, they discuss the role that casual conversation and greetings have within an organization and the effects of losing them.

Sarbaugh-Thompson and Felman begin by discussing studies that were done previous to theirs, showing the often cited positive aspects of electronic communication within an organization.  Specifically, communication for those who generally don’t communicate or communicate infrequently is increased.  Electronic communication has the ability to allow people to communicate and allows people to “be available even when they are physically absent” (685).  The authors stress that though these studies have been useful, they do not put enough emphasis on “the importance of casual contact that occurs when people are co-present” (685).

Their studies began when comparing survey data from 1987 and 1989 of an organization whose electronic mail usage jumped from 8.32 messages per week to 32.18 per week.  Those who responded to both surveys showed a decreased level of intraorganizational communication despite the fact that electronic mail increased. About this the authors say, “This piqued our curiosity about whether something is lost as well as gained when organizations rely on electronic communication” (686).

As the studied continued, it was found that there were increased reports of disconnect between members of the organization (687).

Sarbaugh-Thompson and Felman point out that electronic mail provides the individuals involved with fewer cues (facial expressions, gestures, vocal intonation and indication of social position) than when they are co-present.  This lack of cues has two effects on those involved.  First the range of communication is limited.  For example, sarcasm loses its effect.  Secondly, there is an equalizing effect involved, such as a diminished sense of social hierarchy.  This leads them to believe that some people would say more and some less than they would in an actual face-to-face conversation.

The authors do point out that this decrease in overall communication may be looked at as a reflection of the greater efficiency of e-mail.  Also, they concede that as the members of the organization grew older, they may possibly spend more time outside of the organization, which could have caused the declining numbers.  Despite these issues, there is a definite decline in the use of greetings and they decide to investigate the effects of this decline.

An important concept that is introduced is the idea of presence unavailability.  These are physical signals that one person does not want to engage in conversation with another.  Specifically, “when people are present, but do not wish to engage in an encounter or wish to terminate their current engagement, they use…subtle, often nonverbal, cues to indicate disinterest, disengagement, or unavailability” (694).  This allows others to view the person as trustworthy, an important aspect of social interactions.

The article is concluded with the assertion that electronic mail can decrease social interactions within an organization.  This “decreases the opportunities people have to greet each other or engage in casual conversation” (695).  The authors encourage management to “treat opportunities for casual contact as an important part of work” (696).  By doing this not only are the members of the organization able to chat, they are also able to signal that they are not able to chat (presence unavailability) and therefore build positive relationships between group members.  So, yes, according to the authors, saying “hi” really does matter.

It took me a few times reading this article to really grasp what they were trying to say.  Between the technical experimental terms and tables, my head was spinning.  I was also quite irritated by the repetition of “much of the lost communication was greetings” (they must have said this 15 times).  The first few times reading it, I understood that greetings were lost, but not why this mattered.

At first I thought that the entire premise of the article was ridiculous, but the more I read it, the more it made sense, though I’m not completely convinced that signaling that you don’t want to chat is necessary (can’t you just ignore the e-mail?).  I liked the fact that they didn’t say that electronic communication is bad, only that managers should remember to make sure that casual communication between group members is maintained.  Despite the use of emoticons, there is definitely something that you can only get from a face-to-face conversation, or is there?  How much can you really get across with emoticons?

I’m still leaning towards the necessity of at least some personal interactions.  I like to compare this idea to my online classes.  I have taken at least a dozen online classes.  Often times I never develop a relationship with my professor and classmates because there is an element of personal interaction that is missing.  This isn’t to say that the classes are bad or that I didn’t learn anything, just that it makes for a different learning experience.  I enjoy being able to interact both casually and formally with my classmates and professors.  So I guess I have to agree, saying “hi” really does matter (at least to me).

Works Cited

Sarbaugh-Thomson, Marjorie, and Martha S. Felman.  “Electronic Mail and Organizational Communication:  Does Saying ‘Hi’ Really Matter?”.  Organization Science 9.6 (1998):  685-698.  JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2011.

(By the way, it is IMPOSSIBLE to create a hanging indent on here :-))


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Finding My Way Socially Stunted Adolescents

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. emiller27  |  February 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Amber, I think I need to show this article to my managers at work! They are all about e-mail! They never want to deal with anyone face to face. I hate reading e-mails! I would much rather talk to someone in person rather than shooting them an e-mail. There is nothing personal about an e-mail. You never know how they are really feeling, and things can get misinterpreted through e-mails. More people should say “hi” because it does matter 🙂 Great blog!

  • 2. amberjayd  |  March 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I do agree. I mean, there are definitely benefits to using email. It is so much quicker and easier, but I think we rely too heavily on it.

  • 3. mqm5176  |  April 2, 2011 at 4:51 am

    This entry goes back to something I often bring up in class, which is how we need to be very careful as a society to not allow the internet and what it allows us to do to supplant anything in our lives. If we reach a point where primarily communicating online instead more personally becomes the norm, I think the decrease in physical, inter-personal communication will be a sad regression for our society.


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