Friday, April 30, 2010

The Perils of Email

That might sound a little strange; after all, everyone loves email, and it's a fantastic communication tool, right? The problem with email, though, is its extreme (and sometimes borderline fatal) impersonal nature.

In the past few days, I've had some major issues with email. It's gotten to the point that I've all but decided to give up on emailing someone I know. A few days ago, it was early in the morning and I sent a quick note to a friend to give her a hard time about something. I meant for it to be joking, but I wasn't effective at conveying the teasing at 6:15 a.m. As a result, she thought I was really upset about something and this made her very upset. It took a phone call and a lengthy discussion to straighten it all out.

I got through that almost unscathed, but then another issue with email came up. I was bothered by something, so I sent an email to my friend just to vent about the situation. Somehow a minor point that I made in that email became the focus of the email in her eyes and instead of her reading the email as something that was concerned me, she took it as me being concerned about something SHE was doing and became very defensive and upset with me. What a mess!!! I had a difficult time straightening that out, and it was emotionally exhausting!

When you're reading words on a computer screen, you really can't begin to know what the person who typed them was feeling at the time. You don't know the "tone" that you would hear in a voice, and you can't see any body language that might be helpful in understanding. As a result, feelings get hurt and messages get conveyed that were never meant at all! It used to be that a few "lol"s would clear up that things were supposed to be funny, but that beloved "lol" is so overused in email and chat nowadays that it means virtually nothing at all anymore. Honestly, the last time you typed "lol," were you TRULY laughing out loud?? I didn't think so!

So what is a person to do in order to avoid these pitfalls that come naturally with the onslaught of emails that we send and receive on a daily basis? I don't really have the answer...I'm really still a bit saddened over the problems I've had lately. I think the first idea is to pick up the phone when it's something serious. Some topics really shouldn't be fodder for email discussion. Never forget that email is not only impersonal, but far from private. One keystroke can send your words, which might have been meant for one person's eyes only, to a whole host of others. Can you afford to take that chance?

I bet you can think of a time that you were hurt or offended by something in an email. If you didn't clarify the sender's intent, maybe you inadvertently misinterpreted what he or she was trying to say. The best thing to do is ask, so you can know for sure that you are understanding things correctly. Yes, emails can be carefully worded and read by the sender to ensure they said what they meant to say, but somewhere between the sender's mind and the reader's eyes, things can get completely out of whack.

I know this post really has nothing to do with anything about which I've blogged in the past, but the topic has been on my mind since these problems occurred, and I thought sharing the frustration might be at least a little therapeutic for me. If nothing else, maybe you'll think twice before sending an email next time you're upset or need to talk something out. There is no underestimating the power of a more personal touch.


Annie Jones said...

I've had a few misunderstandings via email, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with voice mail...the kind in a corporate setting where you can either reply to a voice mail or forward it on to someone else. My boss' boss thought he was forwarding my voicemail and his reply to my immediate boss, only he accidentally sent it back to me instead.

I had been sick for quite some time and was sick again, and he literally accused me of faking. And believe me, there was NO mistaking the tone of that voice mail, which caused a ruckus bad enough that I ended up quitting that job.

Anyway, hope you got everything worked out with your friends.

Call me!...LOL!

Or as my niece would write...CQTM...chuckling quietly to myself.

Minda said...

My work environment is very email driven. I have been guilty myself of getting upset and firing off emails that later on I looked back and thought "Ok maybe that was over the top." One of the best lessons that I've learned from my boss is to pick up the phone and just talk to people. You are less likely to say something you'll regret and you're not leaving any documentation to be forwarded to others.