For his birthday I gave Andrew a vintage typewriter. It’s really cool but to actually use it is a pain: you need the right ribbons and the right paper and most importantly, don’t make a mistake! There’s quite a process to fix an error.
But “slow correspondence” has a lot to be said for it, namely, it is so darn slow that a person is likely only to send carefully considered letters…making it a world apart from email, that gratifying hand grenade we have available 24 hours a day.
Andrew and I don’t like email. Andrew’s boss recently commented that Andrew has a “unique” email style. He was likely referring to the fact that most of Andrew’s emails are 4 words long, such as,
“I will be attending Andrew” [sic]
I’ve pointed out to him that punctuation applies in writing an email but I think Andrew feels email is such a time-waster that he just writes freestyle and damn the periods.
I am not quite so brief as Andrew, but I keep the contents of emails to “non controversial” information-sharing: asking someone to do something or telling them I am doing something, or sharing information.
I’ve seen too many times when email has either exploded in people’s faces or created a painful series of vitriolic messages, turning a neutral-to-challenging topic into an all-out war.
And for what? To “save time”, leading to hours of worry or anger? To avoid a face to face confrontation, then ducking every time you see the person? To get one’s self-righteous arguments neatly organized into the perfect lecture, invariably making it all worse?
Consider these true email tales from my and Andrew’s experiences in corporate and personal life:
1. An acquaintance who apparently struggles with the concept of “auto-fill” sends me a romantic love note telling me that last night I demonstrated that love is a verb.
Um, no, I didn’t.
2. A friend sends me a note telling me she doesn’t like the way I handled a situation but that she doesn’t want me to feel badly.
Actually, I do feel badly reading that in an email – how about a phone call?
3. The manager at the gym emails as I’m making Christmas Eve dinner that my personal trainer has decided to leave the Club. Two minutes later, my personal trainer emails me saying she has been fired and that she is extremely upset.
Nice timing! There’s nothing like sending an email to get a difficult task off your shoulders by ruining someone else’s day!
4. I spend an hour writing a long, detailed email to a company I was thinking of retaining, outlining all their failings. I send the draft to Marilyn who I trust will say it is the best email she’s ever read…instead she replies that she hopes I feel better having got that drivel off my chest and to delete the draft immediately.
BFF right again!! Sadly, we can never convince a dope of that fact by email.
5. In the days before padlocked HR files, a team manager of highly paid professionals sends the yearend Excel spreadsheet of salary, bonus and rating to his manager. Actually, he doesn’t – he sends it in error to all the people referred to in the document.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!!
…and then there was the time at the bank when someone intended to forward a promotion announcement to a friend – with a derogatory comment about the promoted person – but instead hit Reply All. The fallout from this one was so bad that I can’t even write about it.
Email is a tool – a blunt instrument at best – and the rules I use are:
1. If I want to genuinely acknowledge someone (their actions, their work, the death or illness of a loved one), email gets the job done, yes, but conveying the sentiments in person, by phone or a written card is so much better.
2. If I am upset (aka mad as a wet hen), I never, ever use email. I may email Andrew or Marilyn to say how mad I am but then I will call or meet, ideally after calming down. A phone call or a meeting in person almost always brings up valid points that I didn’t previously understand.