Email Peace

March 12th, 2007

Are you having a bellicose relationship with your emails? I don’t mean being overloaded and dreaming of a technology black out. What I refer to is writing or receiving missile messages that become sources of rebuttal, attack or emotional waste.

Emails are subject to interpretation by the reader. They are often read in a hurry, on the fly, and under stress. Without modification of tone or interaction, the written words can be received in distorted ways.

The mostly unintended consequence of thoughtless send and reply initiatives is much corporate consternation, according to my clients. Not a day goes by without my helping executives to consider and try to resolve…at length…how to handle the following disruptive examples.

Hit and run: The writer jots a quick, thoughtless and abrupt note without consideration for the reaction of the reader.
Monkey On Your Back: In the guise of delegating or sharing, this message gives the reader a directive without opportunity for discussion.
Dump: Often accusatory, this message is sent with the apparent purpose to let the reader know how the writer feels about an issue, wrong doing or condition, with no thought or empathy about the emotions that the email may elicit in the reader…nor anticipation of the reaction that may result.
Cover My Rear: A relative of monkey, this protective device is an fyi message to put on record that the writer had informed the recipient, and sometimes takes the form of forwarded, copied or blind copied messages. It does not engage dialogue or invite a response.
Tag, you’re it: Places the responsibility or the next step on the reader without consideration or compassion.
Important (Hidden) Information: Embedded in a long, rambling, irrelevant message is data that is critical for the reader. Or,the Subject line is casual (“Hi”, or “follow-up”). Often the reader deletes the message after the first sentence, left to receive Cover My Rear or Dump because of a missed meeting, opportunity, or important deliverable.

Let’s Initiate an Email Peace Treaty, starting with these guidelines:

Get personal! If you have an important message, particularly one that deserves interaction and discussion, speak with the recipient. Yes, get up out of your chair, pick up the phone, make a meeting date. You could even email asking for a meeting. What a novel idea.

Confine email messages to facts. Email communications should be focused on simple, brief communications of information.

Eliminate expressions of feelings, self-defense, accusations, and excuses, complaints and blame which invite a battle.
Provide a headline. Make subjects lines clear and relevant. Examples are: Invitation/Time Sensitive, Your Urgent Attention is Needed, Meeting Agenda for (Date), Response Requested by (Date), For Your Information/No Action Needed

Indicate if you require a response and in what format. State this, preferably, in the Subject line or on the first line of your message.
And finally, to keep the peace. When you write an email, re-read it for toxic waste. Put any emails about which you are uncertain or which you have written in haste or anger in the draft file and keep it for several hours or overnight to consider before sending. If you receive an email missile, it is ideal react with a phone call or in person meeting with an attitude of inquiry and desire to clarify and dialogue. A personal response will often short circuit a email missile.

I invite responses, reflections, ideas about emails. Looking forward to hearing from you!

One comment on “Email Peace

  1. Arthur on said:

    Outstanding; should be required reading on a monthly basis for all.

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