One of the most amazing things about technology and the advances in communication is that we can impart messages and important information across our planet or even outside the planet (remember that we do speak with the people on the space station and get regular reports from that poor little rover on Mars that sings happy birthday to itself) in an almost unimaginable brief span of time. When you think about the fact that people used to have to deliver messages by carrying them by foot travel, equine travel, or other conveyance, this is an astounding evolution. One of the scariest things about technology… is the speed with which you can decimate relationships, reputations, and revenue with that same speed.
So, why is that speed and efficiency scary? Most of the time we, in the modern world, are consistently frustrated, irritable, and just plain pissy when we have to accommodate delays in any form or fashion. We’ve become very inured to instant gratification and immediate access to information. The pace at which we live our lives is breakneck and the tempo is constant without pause or quiet most of the time. However, I’m not discussing my displeasure with the way our society has ceased living in the present in this particular instance. Instead, I wish to go back to what I was saying about the speed with which we are able to send and receive communication via technology.
It is absolutely a miracle of modern contrivance, and it is more than useful to be able to stay in contact with people at long distances. However, the lack of pause and delay has shortened a particular gap between thought and action that previously gave opportunity for choice sandwiched somewhere in the middle. In this episode of Email Diseases, we are talking about what I will call “Sender’s Remorse.” Picture, if you will, employee Joe who is possibly having a rough day. He may have been cut off in traffic or spilled his coffee. Perhaps he has had a perfectly reasonable morning, but then upon reaching the office… [cue dramatic music]… he opens his email to perceive a particularly peevish request from Susan the boss. In this email, she is asking for the umpteenth time information that Joe has spent many hours collecting and collating, parsing and construing to Susan multiple times… but she either cannot lay hands upon said information, is too busy to look (especially when she has Joe that she can just ask again), or never read it the first time. Susan may suffer from a number of previous diseases covered in this series, and she may literally just not recall that he has sent this same information multiple times. But Joe does recall… He feels dismissed and that his hard work has been unappreciated and generally ignored. He is angry and irritable and has had a horrible morning already and is wearing the coffee to prove it, thereby increasing his lack of tolerance. Joe hits the Reply button before he has a moment to think. He types a scathing message in response to the request (possibly using inappropriate italics or SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS). He types with the speed and alacrity of a rapid firing machine gun. There! You clueless wonder, maybe now you will get the message through your remarkably impermeable cranium!!! and hits Send before any other impulse in his own cranium might have a chance to make other choices. This rash action may potentially set off a chain of email back and forth with unpleasant outcomes. If Susan the boss is so inclined and read negative attitude or tone into Joe’s response, there may be disciplinary action in poor Joe’s future. All because of hitting that Send button instantaneously.
The other aspects of an inadvertent, rashly Send could be incomplete information and failure to address all points of a request. This can also be linked to other email diseases such as skimming or non-reading. When we move with speed but lack of diligence and forethought, we can occasionally find that points are left unaddressed and certain communications can be misinterpreted, like poor Joe and his rash rapidity. With just a pause to think how his words might be received and perceived by his recipient, he might have elected to compose a different retort.
Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Technology has shortened that gap to a mere fraction of what we used to have. It therefore becomes a conscious decision on the part of us in our daily lives to be more deliberate and to take the time to be conscious of our choices… even in something so simple as a phrase in an electronic message.
In a recent training conference, I heard a colleague talking about the “rule of three.” Now, I know there are several different rules of three out there, but the two most common of these with regards to electronic communication go like this:
- Once the email chain goes back and forth three times, pick up the phone. It’s time to talk.
- Read every email three times before hitting send: First for spellcheck and grammar; second for intent and content; and third for tone.
While it may seem to be picking nits and taking more time, it may save reputations, inbox from email jail, and good working relationships. So, the moral of the story would seem to be, in order to avoid sender’s remorse, pause before hitting Send to allow that intervening gap between the stimulus and our response for choice to be conscious, deliberate, and well thought.