This blog post is sent from the heart. I'm done with receiving impersonal, insensitive, and clumsy emails (and no, I've not been perfect either). It's my wish that we think hard about our communication habits and end this situation where we are constantly letting each other down.
Email has been with us, the general public, for little over 15 years and in every passing minute thousands of people are emailing something that they shouldn't be. For sensitive matters, by emailing rather than picking up the phone or meeting in person, we are degrading our relationships.
I have learned this the hard way, both as a perpetrator and as a victim. On my side, using email I've tried to deal with a decades-old dispute with a sibling, conveyed emotions to a recently ex-ed girlfriend, and taken weeks of back and forths to arrange a simple meeting. Other people have emailed me to complain strongly about an event I organized, typing sentiments they'd never have spoken to my face; to criticize what I'm doing with my life; and, perhaps worst of all, to announce they were pregnant or getting married (those were from relatives - for shame!).
What happens when email screws up our conversations?
- Both sides misunderstood what the other person meant.
- Neither party could empathize with one another.
- We typed things that we wouldn't say to someone's face.
- It took us so long to go back and forth that we either left things unresolved or we got more wound up.
- Someone inferred that the other side didn't care about them because the latter used email instead of a more personal medium.
- Typing takes a lot more effort than speaking. Thus, we often leave out a lot of information.
- People are physically isolated and lack the exchange information provided by body language and voice.
- Email uses standardized text, which lacks the personal touch of a handwritten letter.
- It can take a while to send and receive messages, which can increase frustration or misunderstanding.
When is email an appropriate medium?
There are certainly things email does well...
- Transferring information and data
- Recording something in writing to be referenced later
- Non-sensitive information when it's hard or impossible to meet in person or use the phone
- Addressing many people at once with an appropriate message
- Never send an email when angry
- Avoid email when the subject involves feelings or important news
- Proofread emails before sending to check if there is any content that could be misunderstood
- Identify the recipient's communication preferences - maybe they prefer particular media on certain days/times
- If it seems like an email exchange is not going well, switch to another medium
Life is short; is it really best spent sitting in front of a computer?
Written by a man obviously in front of a computer but who spends less time on it than he used to.