The Perils of Email Communication
When I saw this blog post on Gawker.com, I just shook my head. What else can you do?
Here’s the gist: a guy who is looking for a job created a profile on Monster.com saying he’s looking for a job in the Columbus, Ohio area. He’s contacted by a recruiter looking for an employee in northern Arkansas. One snippy comment made by the job seeker (who is called “Robert” in the post) sets off a barrage of crazy emails.
Since you got my resume off of Monster, I’m sure you saw in my profile that I’m only interested in jobs in Columbus, Ohio, because you surely check these things before firing off e-mails. —Robert
I’m no geography guru, but thanks to mapquest.com, I deduced that there are about 760 miles between northwest Arkansas and Columbus, Ohio. It’s far. Twelve-plus hours in a car far. So sure, perhaps the recruiter was stretching a little bit when he contacted Robert.
And clearly, Robert was annoyed. But the entire chain of emails between these two guys are totally rude and unprofessional. Sounds like they both had a bad day.
It is so easy to misunderstand and misinterpret people when it comes to email. It happened to me just last week.
How Deadlines and Pressure Impacts Your Emails
I was on deadline and had gotten an article submission in from a media professional a week late. I worked with the art director to re-jig the publication so that we made room for this story. My first inclination as an editor is, if it’s late it doesn’t get published. But I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so we worked it out.
I emailed this person, whom I will call Mary for the sake of this blog post, because I was missing some pertinent information. There was a misunderstanding in what exactly I needed, so I tried to make it as clear as possible in my next email. I mentioned that I needed a very short bio of the writer, but what I got instead was a three paragraph bio that I did not have room to print. I was exasperated and annoyed.
Learn When to Reach for Your Phone
What I should have done was pick up the phone and talk to Mary directly. Even though I tried to be cordial in my emails, I was stressed out as I was up against a very tight deadline. What I did instead was continue to send emails, to which Mary responded to. I had no idea, until she called my boss, that Mary thought I was being rude.
The point is this—when emails start to bother you, it’s best to push the keyboard away and pick up the phone, especially when a business relationship is on the line.
I went back and read the email exchange, and I don’t think I was mean. Succinct, yes. But clearly Mary felt differently. Perhaps she was stressed out and having a bad day, too, which may have skewed the tone of my emails. Because of my frustration and stress in not getting what I needed from Mary, my emails were curt and to the point. Some people find this off-putting. Had I put a smiley face emoticon in my email, would it have made any difference? I have no idea.
The point is this—when emails start to bother you, it’s best to push the keyboard away and pick up the phone, especially when a business relationship is on the line. If you feel like you are misunderstanding what someone is emailing you, pick up the phone and call that person to straighten it out before you get upset or have your feelings hurt.
It’s also best to call when you feel uncomfortable leaving a paper trail of a particular conversation. My coworkers and I have had people misinterpret something we have emailed them, causing anger, frustration, and lots of wasted time worrying about something that wasn’t intended.
Some things, like laying people off or complaining about performance, is best done in person or over the phone. Technology, like email, makes communicating easier, but getting a pink slip emailed to you doesn’t make anyone feel good, and it makes the person doing the laying off appear cold and heartless.
Just because communicating virtually is easier, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do something. If you sense that your bridge between someone is smoldering, put out the fire by picking up the phone and having an actual conversation. And don’t be afraid to apologize. Sometimes just saying, “I had no idea my words could be interpreted this way and I apologize. This is what I actually meant to convey…” can smooth out the wrinkles.