Same job, different uniform.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

girlfriday: laying down my weapons of minor destruction

I cannot decide if email is more a butter knife or a sword so I have settled on the answer both.

It is a weapon, but it is such a lame one.

Its dangers lie in its function as an expression of our trepidation and false sense of familiarity.

Regarding trepidation. A few years ago, I shot off an email to a colleague who was (in my judgment) harassing one of my employees. I reasoned that a paper trail was more important than a face-to-face conversation. And, I was uncomfortable confronting her.

Her boss immediately called me to his office. Call her. Never handle sensitive personnel issues through email. Deal with this a different way. He was and remains a good friend. It was excellent advice.

Making phone calls to, let's say, raise money, reprimand an employee or colleague, or decline an invitation is uncomfortable at best. I am guilty of acquiescing to this discomfort; email has made it so easy. It is a battle to overcome this instinct and sometimes I lose. Pick up the phone, I tell my itching fingers.

As a convenience I am thankful for email. It is hard to overstate its usefulness. But crucial conversations demand a mode of communication fitting to the occasion. When we read, we insert our own inflections into the writer's voice. Email does not allow any room to manage this. If the subject matter is sensitive, if your palms are sweating, you know you need to close Outlook. Now.

Regarding familiarity. How well do you know the recipient? Email is strictly a way to communicate unless both parties have agreed to it as a mechanism for transacting business. Avoid relying on it when corresponding with strangers.

Do you really want to get a hold of someone? Unless they have specifically requested otherwise, be ready to abandon electronic communication and get that person on the phone. They have a phone number, don't they? Call them.

Beware the familiarity of email. It is a pretense. Occasionally it serves the purpose of creating a quiet distance between angry parties; a conversation would escalate into a fight. This is the exception, not the rule.

Email may have become commonplace, but people haven't changed.

They still want to be individually acknowledged.
They expect a real apology.
They want to be asked for things.
They want to be formally dismissed.

Email is so final, too. Like a bullet.

In the last month, I've received at least two emails about me that were not intended for me. I read them; there was no taking them back. Fortunately these offenses were minor; I was amused. I hope the writers were embarrassed, but I'll never know.

They didn't call.


SHARE THIS: Facebook | Stumble It! | | DiggIt! | Technorati


Blogger Julie said...

I am guilty.

I never call. I never phone. I often think "I'm so glad for email so I don't have to talk out loud." It makes it easy to be spineless because you can tell yourself you're handling things when perhaps, you're not.

I know what you're saying.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Blogger girlfriday said...

So am I! It is my lame weapon, after all. And I wield it like a fool, too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hurt a relationship badly by typing my hurt feelings away and hitting send. At least if I would have called maybe I wouldn't have said nearly as much before being interrupted. Great advice.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home