Email Thy Name is Satan

There's an art to using email and I'm going to learn it
by Ron Hall/Editor-in-Chief
3/15/2014

Email is an incredible convenience. With a few keystrokes and the touch of a mouse or tablet we can instantly share our thoughts or send message to one or as many individuals as we want.

Ok, now that I've given it its props, let me be clear - while I can't function without it, I hate email.

Email has almost single-handedly destroyed the personal letter. It seems to be doing the same to conversation. The face-to-face discussions. The warm, friendly phone calls.

Emails can be dangerous, too. They can cause confusion, misunderstanding, hurt feelings and perhaps even anger. Even unintentionally so. 

Being a journalist I took it for granted that I was skilled in using email. Lesson number one: Don't take anything for granted. Lesson number two: A poorly written email can escalate into a regrettable circle of misunderstanding among people. They could friends, co-workers, prospects or customers.

I know. I've received my share of emails from acquaintances or co-workers that I regarded as confusing, unfriendly (intentionally?) or with nuances that made me question the senders' motives.  I'm sure I've dispatched my share of similar emails.

Briefly, I'll share a recent experience that prompted me to write this short column. More importantly, it's caused me change how I view and use emails. In a phrase let's just describe it as "more carefully."

But to my epiphany . . . 

In the stress caused my an approaching deadline rush I dashed off what I considered to be a relatively simple request to two co-workers. But what they read into the email was different than what I had intended. Not surprisingly, they reacted to it differently than I expected. The reaction from one co-worker was frosty, in fact. It was not in character with him.

The problem, which I learned later? The simple sentence or two that I had hurriedly emailed was not precise. In the stress of last-minute production and with everybody's minds on their unique responsibilities, we were all "too busy" to call and talk to each other. Why talk about it when we had an email, right?

We relied too much on convenience of email but - and I'm sure this is very common - allowed the fog of email to drive our reactions.

Yes, email is necessary, especially for those of us working remotely or working on the fly. But it's NOT conversation; it will NEVER take the place of real conversation. And, in many cases, it's a stretch to even to describe it as communication.

We rely too much on email, and much of what we email to each other is confusing, poorly thought out, annoying or unfriendly (again whether intentional or not). Email by its nature is soulless and cold. That realization, reinforced by the avoidable fog that I created among several co-workers recently, is causing me to rethink and to educate myself on email etiquette and how to use it more effectively.

I can also, of course, take the time to make a call when that's the better way to connect with someone.