Question: I have become increasingly concerned about the tone of e-mails that I have been receiving lately. And I find that people aren’t responding to my e-mails in a timely manner. Why aren’t people more courteous?
Answer: E-mail is a wonderful medium. It’s hard to remember what it was like before the days of “You’ve Got Mail.” We’ve become so accustomed to popping off an e-mail every time we feel like it that we take for granted this amazing tool. And now we don’t have to be sitting at a computer to send an e-mail – we can do it from our phones or an electronic tablet. All this makes for a high level of efficiency – wouldn’t you agree?
But we are paying a price with this advancement. We sit in our offices and send an e-mail to a colleague who may be less than 10 feet away. We send text messages to family members sitting in the same room. We send messages via Facebook and Twitter. So what don’t we do? We don’t talk to each other anymore. What I’ve come to learn is that e-mail is a great one-dimensional form of communications. It is perfect for conveying factual information. But all too often we use e-mail to express emotion and sometimes this can be misinterpreted by others.
I remember as a kid how a neighbor’s German shepherd would sometimes chase me into my house while nipping at my heels. Once inside, I’d turn around and scold the dog through the screen door – knowing he couldn’t bite me because I was safe inside. We may have the tendency to say things in an e-mail that we wouldn’t say in person. I call this “talking tough behind the locked screen door.” How easy it is to fire off an e-mail that expresses our feelings about something – especially if those feelings aren’t totally positive. Yet the recipient cannot see our eyes or the expression on our face. He or she cannot hear the intonation in our voice.
We should consider reserving e-mail for what I call “just the facts ma’am” communications. Remember how that was the trademark line from Sgt. Joe Friday of the old TV program, Dragnet? When there is a chance that something slightly contentious needs to be discussed, the best way is in person or at least by phone. I find that when I do this, I’m more likely to be sensitive of the other person’s feelings and talk about the issue in a more positive manner.
E-mail makes our business and personal lives more productive. Good old-fashioned, eyeball-to-eyeball encounters protect relationships, and enable us to maintain our personal connections with others.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.