Be Kind on the Electronic Highway!
Electronic communication via computers, e-mail, text or instant messaging have their positives and negatives. If you’re like me you can certainly respond to a much larger quantity of e-mails from multiple sources, states, countries and time zones than you could ever return by telephone. That is a helpful fact of having electronic messages and that you can attach documents, agreements, articles and images to them. The downside is that when you respond to a message the person receiving it cannot see your facial expression, here the inflection in your voice or know the intent of your message. All the receiver has are cold hard words that they read on a screen of their choice. Obviously, if you capitalize these words it means you are yelling. They can become even more interesting with Emojis which are now like modern hieroglyphics or the cute abbreviations that I’m not always certain of their meanings like: LOL, BTW, OMG etc. What I have found interesting over the years, in work and personal communication via e-mail, is that people will write and send messages electronically that they would never say to someone’s face in a million years. I call it long distance warfare. It is less personal to send an e-mail in anger than if you were face to face with that person in the same room or even on the telephone. In the past if a co-worker would send me an “Angry-gram” I assumed they wanted to speak with me in person and I would go to their office immediately to discuss what they saw as a problem. Every time I did this we were able to resolve things as adults. When we get into an e-mail fight sending angry and accusatory comments back and forth it only escalates and little good can come from it except hard feelings. I have shared this with many co-workers and staffers on something that has worked for me. When someone sends me an angry e-mail that does make me angry, accuse me or hurt my feelings I write a response and then don’t send it. I’ll come back hours later read the senders e-mail, read my e-mail and then 9 times out of 10 delete it. Years later during Dale Carnegie training they suggested the same thing. Somehow writing a response on how you really feel about the message that was sent to you is cathartic even if you don’t send it. In any disagreement or conflict someone must take the higher ground and eventually be the adult in the situation and not allow things to continue to escalate. Another challenge with electronic communication, and I’m bad about this, I expect the person on the other end receiving it to understand what I’m talking even when it isn’t in complete or coherent sentences. Back when I was in Las Vegas one of my co-workers, Dave Clevidence, would joke that he was my translator for the public. Because after being in television for so long I made a, wrong, assumption that people outside of our industry understand what I was talking about. I have gotten better at that over the years but it has taken much effort. I’m very comfortable flying my geek flag with fellow media folks, Harley owners or musicians talking music gear! Another personal flaw I have is when an e-mail sounds condescending that always hits a nerve with me and I must fight the response behavior. Have I ever responded poorly to a mean e-mail – YES. Have I ever felt good after doing it – NO. The other thing that we must consider in this litigious world is that if you send an angry or mean-spirited e-mail in the work place it can be used against you with HR and cause bigger problems with your employer and in your career. Angry Emails are the Road Rage of the electronic highway and we as good citizens must not join in this bad behavior. So, the next time you want to send a scathing e-mail back in response to the one you just received. Write the e-mail, minimize it and come back that afternoon and see if it is really worth sending it. The other person could be having a bad day or life challenges that we are aware of or we could be misunderstanding the meaning of what they are trying to say. Communication verbally and in person is hard enough even when we speak the same language. Electronic messaging only complicates it and we must consider the flaws in the conduit before lobbing angry emails at others. Have a great week, restful and safe holidays with your friends and family and hopefully no mean spirited e-mails or messages!