“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” – Charles Dickens
A few years ago, I ended a relationship with a long-time friend over an email. The email, a disparaging note about me, was accidentally forwarded to me by a mutual friend. Some of the accusations in the email were a surprise to me. However, I didn’t end the relationship because of what she wrote; instead, I ended it because she didn’t have the courage to tell me herself. She, in turn, stopped speaking with the mutual friend who forwarded me the note. More than 10 years of friendship gone over an email.
Recently, a Zenith Media supervisor was called out for sending an email request to the sales community requesting a food delivery the next morning to remedy expected hangovers. Clearly, the professionalism behind the request was in question, but the public hanging would not have been so brutal if this communication didn’t occur over an email. The email itself was leaked and published on industry sites and each exclamation point was critiqued.
There’s definitely a place for email in the workplace and in our personal affairs, but not to the degree that we use it today. Here are clear situations where email, or texts, instant messages, etc., are not good options.
- Expressing strong emotions. If you’re frustrated, angry, or upset with someone, the last thing you should do is write an email. I have yet to read a coherent email written by someone in rage. There is nothing good that can come out of it. Also, we’re much more likely to express (regretful) accusations and sentiments in email that we wouldn’t say in-person. Instead, let’s focus on the art of communication and conversation. How do we express frustration in a productive way? Also, once the feelings reside, you may not feel the same way. Why have a permanent reminder hanging around? Not to mention that email is easy to forward to HR. Cool off and, if necessary, address it in-person.
- An email you wouldn’t want shared with others. Do not write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want shared. I’ve seen people get added to email threads with good intentions, only for them to notice something snarky written about them in the original exchange. Not good for business or productivity. Most of us are dealing with hundreds of emails during the week and don’t have the time to proof every word. Avoid uncomfortable situations with your mental checklist, “Would I be comfortable with this information getting shared?” If the answer is “no,” then don’t write it.
- An email that would embarrass someone. Be mindful of distribution lists. I’ve seen emails between colleagues with one correcting the other while clients are on the distribution list. Instead, privately let the person know that she spelled a word wrong or used a wrong formula. You don’t look any wiser trying to correct her in public.
- An email that will disrupt someone’s personal time. Have you ever had a nice relaxing weekend disrupted when you glance at your BlackBerry and see a subject line in all caps (which is basically someone shouting at you through email)? I understand the impulse to send difficult messages when you have downtime and when it’s less likely that you will have to confront the individual in-person, but it’s poor etiquette to do so. The email, in and of itself, is probably a bad idea, but infringing on someone’s personal time and at a moment when it can’t be resolved is cowardly and rude. Instead, set up time to meet with the person and discuss the issue at hand. Not only will you both get a better night’s sleep, but it’ll also give you time to sleep on it and decide if it even matters the next day.
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