In email the quickest response is not always the most appropriate.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
Let’s say you’re on a mailing list with 2,000 other people world wide.
And let’s say that someone on that mailing list says something incredibly
stupid. Or offensive. Or ignorant. Or just somehow wrong.
And you feel the need to correct them. Right away.
If you answered “yes”, you’re actually like many people; it’s a common
reaction to want to reply right away and put them in their place.
Seriously, count to 10 first or do whatever else might cause you to step
back, catch your breath and thing carefully about what you’re about to say.
I’m sure you’ve seen it; we all have. I saw it again this week when a
question to a list of a couple thousand members resulted several fast and
inflammatory responses. The result was a piling on of messages in agreement in
both tone and content, as well as flurry of inflammatory rebuttals. And of
course what followed included hurt feelings, a stifling of the overall
conversation for which the list exists, and several departures from the
Not at all what you might consider useful or constructive conversation.
I took the opportunity to write up some thoughts on my site TamingEmail.com, and wanted
to mention it here as well.
It’s all to easy for words in email to be misinterpreted and for our
passions to outpace our reason. In the long run it’s really pointless to have
said something quickly if the result is no one hears what you have to say over
the emotion. That’s why “count to 10” or even “sleep on it” are common bits of
advice you’ll hear from email veterans who’ve witnessed these flare ups and
flame wars time and time again.
In a lot of ways email isn’t human. You’re interacting with a computer, not
a person. It’s extremely easy to write things on a computer that you’d never
dream of saying to someone in person. In fact, a great technique to make sure
that your message is appropriate is simple to imagine yourself standing in
front of your intended recipient reading the message. Embarrassed by what you
envision? Then perhaps the message is worth re-wording. Or waiting until the
emotions have settled a little.
Note that I’m in no way saying that the initial reaction to a message is
either right or wrong. What I am saying is that taking the time to craft a well
thought out response rather than dash of a quick rebuttal is much more likely
to be heard, and much more likely to preserve the original conversation’s
I’d love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11601 in the go
to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me
a comment. While you’re there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and
answers on the site.
Till next time, I’m Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.