Send It?

April 30th, 2007

To respond or not respond…that is the modern conundrum.

I hear a lot, as I gather 360 information about emails that appear to be a call to action. Response emails sent when pressured for time ends up taking more time in the aftermath of impersonal immediacy because the reader cannot “read” the nuance of expression that voice to voice or face to face communication enables. In their book, Send, The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe quote Bob Geldof, the humanitarian rock musician, as saying: “email is dangerous because it gives us ‘a feeling of action’–even when nothing is happening.”

They say: “In a face-to-face (or voice-to voice) conversation, our emotional brains are constantly monitoring the reactions of the person to whom we’re speaking. We discern what they like and what they don’t like. Email, by contrast, doesn’t provide a speedy real-time channel for feedback. Yet the technology somehow lulls us into thinking that such a channel exists. As Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence, told us, emailing puts people, in neurological terms, in a state of disinhibition.(In our nonscientific terms, it’s cluelessness.) When we’re on email, the inhibiting circuits in our brain–which help us monitor and adapt to our audience’s responses–have checked out. The big problem, of course, is that we aren’t always aware of this. And by the time we are? Well, we’ve probably already hit that Send key.”

It seems that an email which takes less than 5 minutes to compose and send often results in hours or even days of repercussions. Jules Halpern, who heads up Halpern Law Advisors has recently put together a very helpful list in his newsletter. His “Ten Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Email” lists recommendations that cover a legal as well as an interpersonal perspective. He reminds us that email is a formal communication which becomes part of the legal record and that deleting does not make it truly disappear. In addition to its permanence, email can cause the recipient to react with unintended consequences. Brief and curt communications or sarcastic “jokes” may create a different impression than anticipated, leading to unnecessary misunderstandings or even contentious outcomes. Thus, counting to 10 before sending, speaking in person rather than writing and restricting emails to announcing and explaining, not communicating emotionally laden topics are advisable. Halperin reminds us that: “Talking is still the best form of communication, especially when emotions are involved. The old saying, ‘write it, regret it’ certainly applies to electronic communications.”

In addition, Halperin cautions us to avoid anything that is sexually suggestive, racist or otherwise harassing and to assure that our important emails have been received by calling to verify receipt. A final recommendation is to keep our emails organized so that they are easily found if a record of communication is needed in the future.

One last thought, my clients tell me that they actually have benefited from the Blackberry blackout, and technology shut downs. They like the opportunity to think before speaking, reaching out personally, and not feeling compelled to respond before consideration and composition. Think about it!

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