One of my recent blog posts, “Is Face-to-Face Communications Always the Way to Go?,” debated the use of email communication versus face-to-face interaction. Here’s something else to think about: People tell more lies when using email than pen and paper. The Well blog of the New York Times contained a post called “E-Mails and Lies” that examines this phenomenon.In this article, blog author Tara Parker-Pope highlighted research from Rutgers and DePaul Universities, which found that e-mail is a more likely conduit for deception than pen-and-paper communication. The study took forty-eight graduate students. Each was told they had $89 to divide between themselves and another fictional person who believed the money was between $5 and $100. Using either e-mail or pen and paper, the students shared how much money they had and how much the other party would receive.The results:
- Subjects using email lied more than 92 percent of the time. Subjects using pen and paper lied less than 64 percent.
- E-mailers gave an average of $29 to the other party compared to the writers’ average of $34.
- On average, e-mailers claimed to have a total of $56. The writers averaged $67.
Why does this happen? Parker-Pope included this quote from one of the author’s of the study:
“E-mail communication decreases the amount of trust and cooperation we see in professional group work and increases the negativity in performance evaluations,” said co-author Terri Kurtzberg of Rutgers. “People seem to feel more justified in acting in self-serving ways when typing as opposed to writing.”
Based on this study, you should try to use pen-and-paper writing as much as you can when dealing with your customers (especially if they are graduate students!)–unless, of course, you are trying to deceive them. Then use email. And be cognizant of this finding when customers and vendors communicate with you via email and pen-and-paper communication.