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The results of two studies which looked at whether people are less inclined to be honest in email are out, and the answer is a big “yes”. Based on these studies, at least, people tend to lie a lot in email.

In fact, the two studies, published jointly as a paper entitled “Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying in Online Ultimatum Bargaining”, found that in their tests, subjects were likely to lie as much as 92% of the time!

According to one of the two authors of the studies, Professor Terri Kurtzberg, of Rutgers University, “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.”

In one study, a group of MBA students was (virtually) given the sum of $89.00 each, and told that they had to split it with a stranger at the other end of an email address. In their email to the stranger, a full 92% of them lied about how much money there was, indicating that much less than the $89.00 was available. In fact, on average, they only ‘gave’ $29.00 to the person with whom they were corresponding by email.

Going on the theory that maybe if the person with the money was familiar with the person on the other end, the researchers created another study with a different group of MBA students, which revealed that while it was true that the more familiar the sender was with the recipient, the less likely they were to lie, they still lied.

Now, of course, it may be that these studies only really show that MBA students tend to lie, but the issue it highlights remains: can people trust your email?

And, more importantly for you, how do they know that they can trust your email?

To put an even finer point on it, what can you do to ensure that the people to whom you send email know that they can trust it?


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