Employees are increasingly likely to communicate by electronic mail (email) withcoworkers, customers, clients and other colleagues. The proliferation of email for business
communication is likely due to some advantages that email has over other communication media.
Email is asynchronous, relatively flexible, allowing receivers to access their messages in
multiple locations and at any time after the message is sent. It can be sent over large physical
distances, often at a very quick rate with relative ease. Attachments to email allow users to share
computer files. Lastly, emails can be easily sent to multiple recipients, allowing employees to
share information to a wide audience when needed with very little additional effort.
These features are the likely reason that some employees report that they increasingly use
email in place of face-to-face, fax, phone, and “snail mail” communication. However, rather than
simply being a substitute for telephone or face-to-face communication, email has both enhanced
communication within organizations and introduced challenges not associated with some other
forms of communication. Several studies on the use of email in organizations have found that it
is often used to convey information that would otherwise not be shared (e.g., Sproull & Kiesler,
1986). At the same time, however, the characteristics of email have also led some to argue that
conflict escalation is more likely to occur when communicating by email than when
communicating face-to-face or by phone (Friedman & Currall, 2003). In addition, some have
argued that email cannot accurately convey emotion (e.g., Daft & Engel, 1986).
However, recent theory and research suggest that emotions are perceived by receivers of
email, whether intended by the sender or not (e.g., Walther, 1996; Walther & D’Addario, 2001).
The present studies seek to examine when and how emotions are perceived (and expressed) in
email communication. The objective of this paper is to examine what cues signal emotion in
email communication, and whether receiver characteristics influence the perception of, and the
reaction to, emotion in email communication.