Friday, September 26, 2008

Live and Learn: Email Madness!

I sent an email to someone and inadvertently caused a lot of drama and, although the recipient will not agree, that was not my intention. What makes my error particularly egregious is that I, of all people, should know better. As a corporate trainer, I instruct people on a regular basis on the costly results of email faux paus. So I’m writing this as a cautionary tale to you and as a refresher to me.

I broke just about all the rules when I wrote the email that lit the fire that ended what was becoming a nice friendship. I was a little bit perturbed when I wrote it and then I wrote it in a sort of tongue-in-cheek tone which ended up as more of a foot-in-the-mouth. I broke the rules and I’m paying for it.
Cardinal Rule #1: Never send an email when you are experiencing a negative emotion (even if it's just a little bit): Save it as a draft, delete it, better yet, right it in Word and then save it. You may say some things that you regret (I know I did).

Cardinal Rule #2: Sarcasm and humor are very hard to interpret in an email. I thought my email was kind of cute, pissy, but kind of cute. However, it came across as anything but cute. In retrospect, I can understand where the problem started. Email has none of the nuance of tone of voice and there is no body language to be interpreted. It’s just your words and, without the tone and body cues to come with it, those words come across as very strongly. Your intention often gets lost in the reader's interpretation.

Cardinal Rule #3: Just like your words come across very loudly in an email, at times those little smileys can make a bad situation worse. If you have to resort to smileys to communicate the ‘tone’ of your email, you are better off picking up the phone and calling. I am 90% sure this person would not have gotten so upset with me if he could have heard my tone of voice. It would have been very clear that I wasn’t angry or hostile.

Cardinal Rule #4: Once you hit send, it’s gone. You can’t get it back (the recall feature in some email applications rarely works). You can’t control who the message is forwarded to or what edits are made to your original email. I cringe as I think of that email being passed around to goodness knows who.

Cardinal Rule #5: Don’t hide behind email. Because there are so many ways your message can be interpreted (or misinterpreted), sometimes it’s better to just have a discussion – face-to-face or over the phone – even if it’s kind of awkward.

The chances of this person reading this email are slim-to-none, but I am truly sorry that an email ended a friendship.

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