Email is evil. OK, not really, it’s just a tool, but there are times when I think that email is truly evil.
I have been on vacation for a few days, and I turned off my email. So I know that I must go back to work in a day or so and read through all of that communication.
I dread it.
Not because I don’t want to catch up, but because I don’t want to run into an email that is rude, or cross, or hurtful. People say things, either without thinking or with purpose, in an email that they would never voice in person. I have often cautioned the people I work with about what they write in an email.
While you may be the recipient of an “evil” email, you don’t have be someone who sends one. There are two ways to prevent writing emails that hurt:
One, don’t compose an email when you are angry. Pick up the phone or walk to the person’s office. Call a meeting if you have to, but do not send an email when you are upset. You may be upset by an email the other person has just sent you, but do not reply in kind. Even if the other person has copied the entire world, don’t shoot off a nasty-gram in reply. Call them or go see them. Then if you need to correct something, reply to the email later with a “I just talked with so-and-so and this is what we decided…” kind of email. If you must send an email in reply to an angry one, take a break. Cool down and think clearly before you reply.
Two, take into consideration who you are writing to and how they will receive your words. There is no tone of voice or body language with email.
-Assume they will take it the worst way. You may think that they will understand your joke, or will know where you are coming from. But don’t. I have seen innocent comments turn into great offenses. Be clear, not clever.
-Can this subject be communicated clearly through a short email? If you must write three pages to explain yourself use the email to schedule a meeting or a call.
-Is the recipient personally invested in the subject? I was once asked to evaluate another church’s media and video work. I knew that the people who did the actual shooting and directing would see the email, so I tempered my words. I told the truth, but it was kind.
Knowing your audience and bearing that in mind while writing will help make sure that your email is effective without being offensive.
Email is a requirement in modern organizations, but how it is received can be helped with a little time and attention.