Workers are more prone to lie in e-mail than in any other kind of communication, according to researchers from Lehigh University, Rutgers University and DePaul University.
In fact, e-mail is the most deceptive form of communications in the workplace--even more so than traditional types of written communications, such as taking pen to paper.
This is startling: People actually feel justified when lying in an e-mail. "There is a growing concern in the workplace over e-mail communications, and it comes down to trust," says Liuba Belkin, co-author of the studies and an assistant professor of management at Lehigh University. "You're not afforded the luxury of seeing non-verbal and behavioral cues over e-mail. And in an organizational context, that leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and, as we saw in our study, intentional deception."
The study: The researchers handed 48 full-time MBA students $89 to divide between themselves and another fictional party, who only knew the dollar amount fell somewhere between $5 and $100. There was one pre-condition: the other party had to accept whatever offer was made to them. Using either e-mail or pen-and-paper communications, the MBA students reported the size of the pot--truthful or not--and how much the other party would get.
The results: Students using e-mail lied about the amount of money to be divided more than 92 percent of the time, while less then 64 percent lied about the pot size in the pen-and-paper condition. The rate of lying was almost 50 percent greater between the two groups. E-mailers also said they felt more justified in awarding the other party just $29 out of a total pot of about $56. Pen-and-paper students were a little friendlier. On average, they passed along almost $34 out of a misrepresented pot of about $67.
"Keep in mind that both of these media--e-mail and pen-and-paper--are text only. Neither has greater 'communication bandwidth' than the other," says Charles Naquin of DePaul University. "Yet we still see a dramatic difference."
The more familiar e-mailers are with each other, the less deceptive are their lies. But they do still lie! "These findings are consistent with our other work that shows that e-mail communication decreases the amount of trust and cooperation we see in professional group work, and increases the negativity in performance evaluations, all as opposed to pen-and-paper systems," explains Terri Kurtzberg of Rutgers University. "People seem to feel more justified in acting in self-serving ways when typing as opposed to writing."
--From the Editors at Netscape