THREE PROVEN RULES OF EMAIL Email is perhaps the most efficient way to communicate in business, personal life, and within organizations. The main benefits are: 1. A written record of communication is saved. If we don’t remember what we told someone eight months ago, we can retrieve the email chain and instantly refresh our memory; 2. Time can be taken to collect thoughts. Unlike speaking, negotiating, giving directions, or other verbal interactions, email allows the user to sit back and think about the details that need to be communicated. When an email is received, it can simply be saved or printed out. This provides clear messaging with little room for interpretation; and 3. It saves time. In an email, we can get right to the point. Sometimes, a five minute telephone conversation about one important question can end up lasting half an hour without the question being answered. Now, there are multiple examples when phone calls, face to face meetings, and hearing another person’s voice are much more important than an email. Its not a good idea to wish your brother a happy birthday or try to console a client who is afraid and anxious by email. Common sense guides us on when email is appropriate. While email has so many positive features, there are some serious problems associated with its use. There are the three proven rules (or pitfalls) that if we are mindful of can make our email communications a positive rather than a negative. (Let me be clear, I have not always followed these rules. But, perfection is not the idea; learning is the key).
1. THE 24 HOUR RULE – Sometimes, we receive emails that are dishonest, aggressive, or otherwise inappropriate. This often makes us angry. This week, I received an email from a person that was accusatory, offensive, and factually incorrect. As my anger grew, I drafted a response that was twice as aggressive and sure to create a string of emails or worse. Thankfully, I remembered the 24 Hour Rule. I simply kept the draft, waited until the next day, and then responded. My two draft responses were polar opposites. The first one, which I did not send, was written out of anger. The second one, which I sent, was written out of calmness. While I did point out that the man was wrong, I simply expressed my disappointment with his email and asked him to seek the truth before responding. Two days later, he called and apologized. The 24 hour cooling off period can make us take the “high road.”
2. ONLY THE FACTS – Emails are meant to convey information in a factual manner. Some examples are planning a hunting trip, making an offer to settle a case, providing details about an event, or answering questions about a business matter. With a few exceptions, emails should not be emotionally based or centered around feelings or personal problems. The telephone works much better under these circumstances. If we are having a disagreement with a friend or family member, we need to call or go see them. Hiding behind emails is just not the right thing to do.
3. OPEN BOTTLE, POWER DOWN – Many folks have a couple or more drinks at the end of a long day. For the vast majority of people, this is not a problem. But, imbibing lowers inhibitions, can impair judgment, and can increase the desire to “tell it like it is.” Sometimes, when a person has been drinking and starts emailing or texting others, it can be devastating. Sometimes, people say things they don’t mean, create problems where none existed, come across as out of character, and make some big mistakes in both their personal and professional lives. I know someone who doesn’t power down after a few cocktails. He is a good man, but alcohol affects him adversely from time to time. On numerous occasions, he has told me that he would write an email around 11:00pm to someone and tell them “like it is.” However, he never hits the send button. Instead, he saves the draft and looks at it the next morning. Do you know how many of those drafts were actually sent that next morning? Zero. Thankfully, he has never experienced the remorse and regret the next morning after sending an email after too many drinks the night before. Lastly, remember that every email we send is forever saved. Deleting an email does nothing but place it in a folder called “delete.” But, using email the correct way and being mindful of the three rules, can have a positive impact on every aspect of our lives.