Tag Archives: email diseases



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.



It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.

This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Wrong. And here’s why…

First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.

Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.

Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).

To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.

  1. Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
  2. Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
  3. Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
  4. Consider writing your own @#$% email.

For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.

In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.

Forward to 10 friends.
Forward to 10 friends.


I was originally going to call this piece, How to Avoid Electronically Pissing People Off, but figured since I was striving for professionalism I’d better rethink that title.  So, you get Voiceless Miscommunication instead.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry…I’ll fix it.

I’ve said it before and I’m fairly certain I’ll say it again: we are virtually (no pun intended) overrun with technology; from cell phones to wireless networks, massively multiplayer online games to blue tooth and everything in between. These days it’s hard to tell when an actual person ends and their technology begins because one’s tech is very much another appendage which, if severed, could cause physical pain.

We love our cell phones, our texting, our emojis and emoticons, instant video, on-demand anything, now, right now, hurry up please. Can you say instant gratification? The problem this has created is we are, less and less, communicating with one another as we are with an artificial-like intelligence. Hey, Siri? Hi, Galaxy! And, wonder of wonders, our devices talk back to us. Sometimes with flippant comments cleverly programmed by those invisible actual-humans who program such wonders, and other times with seamless internet searches which delve for answers even before you’re done asking the questions.

Do you know that feeling you get – those of you who have experienced such things – when Siri comes back with a sarcastic non-answer? Or when Galaxy responds, “That’s a tough question. Allow me to search the internet for an answer to ‘What is two times two?’.” Meanwhile, you’re thinking: “Really?” And each time you attempt to clarify your question to the faceless, emotionless, quasi-A.I. which lives inside your device, the response you get only serves to confuse you further. As if two times two could ever equal purple, because aliens don’t wear hats. Say what?

But, in true Tangent style, I digress.

I was headed toward discussing email – another faceless, emotionless, quasi-A.I…. Ok, not really, but definitely one of the most widely-used forms of communication technology we have. But, as useful a tool as email is, email really doesn’t have a voice unless you give it one. We can take thoughts from our clever brains and type them out neatly into whatever email program you use (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo! – you get the picture) and suddenly thoughts become visible words. And, though you know how those words are supposed to sound, once they get ‘on paper’ they suddenly lose their tone. The words have no voice. Further, not everyone is as creative as you are, so your words may be misconstrued on the other end because the recipient was unable to hear with your intended voice. You are now voicelessly communicating with another human being.

Let’s face it, though. At the root of this, we’re all human beings; and therein lies the problem. Have you ever tried reading lips? Have you ever witnessed a conversation taking place in American Sign Language and wondered what was being said? Have you ever heard another language being spoken and felt left out? Now, I know there are a lot of you out there who can read lips, or understand ASL, or have an ear for foreign languages, so you may have to stretch a bit here, but stay with me. I’m trying to convey the level of confusion, exclusion, or even frustration you may feel at not being able to understand what is being said. Your logical brain tells you that, because two people are conversing they must be using a language they both understand and therefore, the conversation is meaningful to them. Your feeling brain is simply confused, lonely and left out. Though, really, you do not need to be involved in every conversation you hear (sorry, my inner mother just came out).

Wow…I went off track again. Sheesh! I must need some more caffeine.

How, you may be asking, do I give my email communications a voice? Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s hard. And some people are just unable to do it, no matter how hard they try. It could be a matter of, “I’ve gotten my point across,” or, “I’ve said what I meant to say,” or, “If they take what I’ve said in a way that I didn’t intend, well…that’s not my fault, is it?”

Actually, it is.

Relationships have been established, strengthened, fought for, and finally solidified or lost entirely using email. Through email, it is just as possible to capture someone’s attention in a positive way as it is to really tick someone off. Just a possible to get your message across in a friendly manner as it is to simply state facts.

Let’s test this, shall we?

Morning friend!

Just thought you’d want to know those catalogs you ordered have arrived. They’re on the shipping dock, which is currently overloaded with deliveries. WOW! I’m gonna be busy the next few days! Let me know if you need help moving them to storage.


Your catalogs are on the shipping dock. Dock’s full, so get them to storage soon.

Which email would you prefer to receive? While both emails contain the same information – catalogs have arrived, the shipping dock is crowded, the catalogs need to be moved to storage – one email is friendly and implies the sender’s willingness to assist the recipient with moving the catalogs in order to clear off the dock while the other email is basically, “Your stuff’s here. Come get it.”

Let’s try this again.


I just got a call from a customer who said you were unfriendly to them. I would really like to hear your side of the story. Do you have time to come see me this afternoon so we can work this out? I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.



I just got a call from a customer who said you were rude to them. You have got to tone it down. We need to talk about this a.s.a.p. I need you in my office before noon. This is not the kind of behavior I tolerate.

Again, which email would you rather receive? While both emails contain the same basic information, one is open-minded and non-accusatory; taking the facts as they are known and relaying them in a way that gets attention, but also lets the recipient know that no judgement is going to be handed down until both sides have fully vetted the information related to the situation. The other email is accusatory, judgmental and automatically assumes the recipient is at fault. Yes, both senders want to talk to the recipient, but it is apparent one prefers to hear both sides of the story before making any decisions while the other has already made a judgement call on the situation.

You can make or break any relationship via email. The trick is to find the right words, in the right context, which will convey the right meaning to the recipient. This is extremely difficult at times. Also, there are some folks who simply cannot do this, no matter how much they might want to or how hard they try. Bottom line is you need to write, and read, email with your human voice instead of your electronic one.

Here’s another way to look at it: If you are automatically inclined to react in a particular way to an email from a particular person, there’s nothing that particular person can do to beautify their words so you won’t take offense. I mean, let’s face it: there are some folks who just rub you the wrong way, no matter what they do, right? Just as there are folks who you can’t help but like, even if you may not really want to.

So, this voiceless communication thing is a two-sided coin. On one side, a sender really needs to pay attention to the words they are using, taking into consideration how those words will be received on the other end and if those words will convey their meaning in an appropriate, non-offensive way. On the other side, the recipient really needs to pay attention to the words as they are written and make an attempt to hear them with the human intonations with which they were intended.

Bottom line is: words are words, meaning is meaning, but undertone, intent, and predetermined feelings such as like and dislike are also key factors to consider when composing electronic communications. It’s a skill. And like any skill, it takes practice. So the next time you sit down to compose an email – however brief – consider the above-mentioned factors of words, meaning, undertone, intent, and feeling as you type. You may just find that your email has a positive impact on more levels than you ever thought possible.



In an age where we have so many options for communicating, we rarely communicate. I mean, yeah – we all still talk to each other – but do we really communicate? If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time on Total Information Overload (T.I.O. – Remember that; I’ll use it again) and sometimes, especially in times of high-stress or high-emotion, T.I.O. is, quite literally, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You know what I mean. It’s the “If I have to deal with/fix/listen to/solve one more problem I’m gonna [insert your own descriptor here]” symptom of a greater issue.

All that being said, at this point we’re only going to get busier. Information is going to continue to flow faster and faster. Things will change so rapidly we’ll eventually be buying new tech every other week as our “old” tech continues to become obsolete just so we can keep up. It’s maddening.

I know when I’m in T.I.O., I tend to shut down. I remove myself from most social media; I don’t write anything I don’t absolutely have to write; I don’t read anything I don’t absolutely have to read; I don’t talk to anyone I don’t absolutely have to talk to. I’m not being mean or even truly anti-social; I’m in full self-preservation mode. To be honest, my withdrawal is probably more for the sake of those around me than for my own. Heaven only knows what might come out of my mouth on an off day – or even an off minute.

You: Where in the heck is she going with this?

Me: I do realize I’ve taken the long way around the barn and I’m currently at risk of running away with the horse. Please hang in there.

You: <sigh> Okay.

(Truth be told, this could be considered – at least in part – a continuation of Tananda’s “Skimmers and Non-Readers” article from several months ago. But it’s also more than that.)

Let me simplify. What is, for all intents and purposes, the most commonly used form of business communication these days? That’s right! Good for you! It’s email. We’re absolutely inundated by, and totally dependent upon, email. I know I am, at any rate. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to weed through it all, and yes, sometimes things get missed. But in my case (and I can truly only speak for myself here) things aren’t missed because I’m lazy. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I miss things because I’m overwhelmed. Total. Information. Overload. I work very hard to make sure I accurately take stock of the information which has been communicated to me and disseminate it appropriately.

Perhaps one has an email which informs one of the date and time of an upcoming event, but the information on said event is buried among the verbiage weeds. You literally have to dig through the barrage of words to find the pertinent information. Even the best of us struggle with such a task. (With apologies, we so-called “writers” – because I would never condescend to truly call myself a writer – tend to err on the side of being overly verbose.)

Let’s pretend you’re like me – a very busy administrative assistant – trying to make heads or tails of not only your own email, but your boss’s in-box as well. Now, let’s pretend you’ve become involved in a chain of back-and-forth emails between yourself, and another (at least one other) individual. Pay attention here:

From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               Quarterly Report

Hey – just checking in to see how that report is going.


From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: Quarterly Report

Hi. Great! Just putting the finishing touches on it. It should be in your in-box by noon.


From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Fantastic. Thanks!

On another note, do you think you’d be able to help with the annual fundraiser this fall?


From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Sure, I don’t see why not. Send me the details.

OK – enough pretend; back to reality now.

You just witnessed one example of something the organizationally challenged abhor. At least, this organizationally challenged individual abhors it. One might even go so far as to call it a peeve, though I think that’s stretching it. Silly, but true.

You:       What in the heck is she talking about? That email exchange looks fine to me!

Me:        Be patient, my young Padawan.

Notice, if you will, the subject change? No, not in the actual subject line – ah ha! – but in the body of the email. Now, consider a few months down the road “Them” comes back to you and says, “…but you said you’d help with the annual fundraiser!” after you’ve publically announced you’d be taking a short leave of absence. And you, being the conscientious person you are, go back to check because you can’t really recall what you’ve committed to and, though you know something came through about it, the details are a little fuzzy. (Hey, it’s months later; you can hardly remember what you had for dinner the night before!) Do you believe you could quickly and accurately find this little gem among the overwhelming number of emails which have hit your in-box since the original request?

I don’t care how diligent you are, how organized you are, or how good your memory is. This would be nearly like trying to uncover the proverbial needle from the proverbial haystack.  But – what if you took the same exchange (I won’t reiterate it) and changed the subject to Annual Fundraiser when you hit “Reply” that last time? Not only would it make your life easier, it would make searching it out several months later easier as well. It would also accurately represent the content of the email and document the subject change.

Furthermore, upon separating the wheat from the chaff, you realize that yes, you’d been asked to help with the annual fundraiser, but your request for further details was accidentallyonpurpose ignored and therefore you have nothing further to go on except the original agreement to assist. Therefore, the “argument” in question is invalid. You win.

Yeah, yeah – I know. Asking folks to change the subject in the subject line of an email would be like asking people to reinvent the wheel, or rediscover fire, or relearn how to breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2. And anyway, it was just a suggestion.

Let’s take this one very confusing step further, shall we? We’re going to pretend, for the sake of this argument, there are seven people involved in the email exchange above. Seven. Not a couple, not a few, more than several, but not a lot. It starts innocuously, asking about the status of the Quarterly Report, and then morphs into a request to assist with the fall fundraiser. Are you with me so far? And with responses from the seven folks who all agree to help with the fundraiser, you now have multiple answers, suggestions on what to do, ideas, themes, colors schemes, rules, a ridiculous amount of Reply-to-All instances which have quickly gotten out of hand (thank you very much) and suddenly your in-box is not just overwhelmed, but on the verge of exploding; you along with it. Most unfortunately, there is no possible way to stem the tide at this point. The email has taken on a life of its own and all you can do is hang on and hope you don’t get crushed.

Six weeks down the road, someone asks, “Hey, who came up with the idea of putting glitter on all the banquet table centerpieces? I’d like to give them a piece of my mind! I’m covered with glitter. I think I may even be pooping glitter. My 4 year old daughter thinks I’ve been hanging out with unicorns and fairies.”

Yeah. Good luck with that.

The bottom line is, in a post email in-box apocalypse, there is no hope of ever effectively going back to find out who came up with what idea because, guess what? The subject line still says “Quarterly Report” and didn’t have anything to do with fundraising.

Or glitter.

SERIES: Email Diseases: How they affect your life and how you can avoid them (Issue 2: SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS)

Do you like to be yelled at?  Does anyone?






Argument A

Picture, if you will, an email exchange between two individuals engaged in an electronic argument.  (I shall not make something up here because my ability to argue successfully extends really only to myself – I tend argue with myself a lot – and to very few others.  Needless to say, debate class in high school was not my very favorite thing.  Though some would say I live to argue, this is simply not the case.)  These two individuals have allowed their virtual disagreement to escalate to a point where one user (let’s call him USER 1) has finally lost his ability to reason effectively and has resorted TO SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in order to make his point.  The other user (let’s call him USER 2), upon receiving the SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS, sits back in his chair feeling defeated and thinks: “Well!  You don’t have to yell at me!” Followed by some choice words (fiercely unspoken) directed at USER 1.

Argument B

Imagine, now, this same exchange – however long it may have been – in person.  Two people, standing nose to nose, both red-faced and obviously ticked off, each about a stones-throw away from coming to blows.  To the outsider, it is apparent one individual of this duo is the instigator and the other is simply doing his best to hold his ground and not allow himself to be bullied.  Both are furious with one another.   Both believe they are right and the other is wrong.  The shouting is disruptive to others around them both in a way that disallows these others to be productive employees and in a way that makes these others truly uncomfortable.  It could be that a few of these others are interested in this heated exchange in the same way a passer-by might be interested in a train wreck, but for the most part, people have scattered to other parts of the building to attend to suddenly urgent duties.  This argument culminates in one person finally blowing his top and shouting, “YOU’RE WRONG!  YOU’RE JUST WRONG!  YOU’RE STUPID, YOU DON’T KNOW THE PRODUCT OR THE CUSTOMER BASE AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!!”  Whereupon hearing this, the other individual deflates, says something quietly to the shouter which witnesses can’t really make out, and slinks off to lick his wounds.

Does the “winner” of either argument actually win?  Or is that person simply better able to argue some point or another and, possibly, better at wearing down his opponent?  Does it make the “loser” less right, or his argument less sound?  Granted, it will depend a lot on the actual argument and since I did not see fit to imagine one for you we’ll really never know.

But…what does all this have to do with SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS?

In my most humble of opinions, using SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in an electronic exchange is, quite simply, unacceptable.  I tend to use capital letters if I am trying to place emphasis on a word or phrase that underlining or italicizing will not draw adequate attention to.  But in those cases, it is usually very obvious that I am NOT shouting.

I read a story once (well, actually, if I’m being honest I’ve read this particular story multiple times) about a group of Solomon Islanders who had an ancient practice of felling trees by yelling at them.  (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum – http://www.robertfulghum.com/)  The theory behind this practice was that yelling killed the spirit of the tree and so it died and fell over.

I believe that being yelled at does, indeed, kill one’s spirit.  Especially if one is yelled at often and for an extended period of time.  To make one cower before you by the very act of yelling – out of anger, frustration, intent or intensity of feeling – is a lowly act and one that only makes you a bully.  Yes, there are absolutely reasons why yelling, on occasion, is warranted; but only on occasion.  If you go around yelling at people all the time, will you have any friends?  Will anyone truly love you and will you be able to truly love?  Will anyone respect you?  Listen to you?  Act on your words or simply ignore you?

Ending an argument by so thoroughly defeating your opponent is akin to abuse and yes, in some cases, even murder.  Do you really wish to kill someone’s spirit by yelling at them?  I believe there are much better ways to win an argument and that, my friends, requires finesse, an adequate understanding of and ability to use the English language, and a genuine desire to make your point without completely steamrolling your opponent.

Just some food for thought.