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Avoiding Road Rage on the
Information Highway

(Effective Use of Email)

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Think Before You Send Your Email

Email is a new communications media that is a cross between a telephone and a letter. In most ways, however, email is much closer to a letter than a phone call. Like a letter, the communication is one-way. We write something, then send it, then wait for some period of time to hear a response. That also means it's NOT instantaneous (the way a telephone is). Sometimes that delay is minutes, other times it's hours, days, or even weeks. Also, like a letter, we have no intuitive way to let people know our emotions. For example, in a phone call, we can use voice inflections and laughter to let the other person know we're joking. If our voice chokes up, the other person knows they've hurt our feelings.

tabSo, why is this important? There are three reasons. First, it is extremely important to take the time to reread our emails before we send them. Try to figure out whether what we are saying can be misinterpreted, hurtful, or harmful to a third party. It's extremely easy to tell John that Mary is incompetent in an email. But let's not forget that John can forward that email to Mary.

tabNext, it is easy to say something jokingly, but have the other person take it literally. That's the purpose of emoticons 1 and those FLS's (funny little symbols), as well as those strange abbreviations 2. They let the other person know whether we're joking, grinning, frowning, etc.

tabA third reason we need to reread before we send is to make sure we know who we're sending it to. For example, a classic story on the Internet is the person (call her Mary) who sent an email to the whole company (including to John who was her lover). John replied to the message in a rather sexy manner. The problem? Since John's message was a reply, it also went to the whole company. Including his wife.

tabA fourth reason (OK I lied when I said three) is to make sure that the people you are sending it to really care about what you're saying. For example, a friend of mine was interested in soccer. Every time he got someone's email address he added them to his soccer distribution list. Then, whenever there was anything interesting to HIM about soccer he emailed it to EVERYONE he knew. He was the first person that I put on my bozo filter list 3. If he ever sent me anything important after that, I sure never received it. This isn't a problem with the phone or letters because with those we contact each person one at a time. We would become bored long before anyone else did. With email, however, we can write a message once and send it to literally thousands of people in the blink of an eye.

Read Other Peoples' Emails Gently

tabIf we should Think Before We Send, then we should also be aware that just possibly the person who sent you that nasty email didn't have the forethought to read my previous newsletter article (Think Before You Send Your Email) before they sent you that email. So, when you read an email that disturbs you, ask yourself several questions:

tabFirst, did the person mean something jokingly and it just didn't come through? Second, were they responding to something that you had written, but they interpreted it incorrectly? Third, did they send it to some email discussion group that you are a member of - and the message really isn't to you or about you at all. Fourth, are you in the proper frame of mind to read this email? Perhaps you should set it down and read it again tomorrow before responding.

tabIf, after asking yourself these four questions, you decide you want to respond to them, then be careful to read Think Before You Send Your Email before sending off that email. Make sure you understand what your purpose is - is it to chastise, educate, get revenge, or start a flame war. Then make sure that the email you write is apporopriate for the purpose you decided.


Terms Used

  1. Emoticons: Symbols used in an email to show an emotion. You usually need to lay your head sideways on your left shoulder before looking at them. For example,
    :-) means smiling
    :-( means sad or frowning
    ;-) means a sly wink

  2. Strange Abbreviations:
    <g> means grin
    <VBG> means Very Big Grin
    <LOL> Laughing Out Loud
    <ROFL> Rolling On Floor, Laughing
    <TTFN> Ta-Ta For Now
    <TTYL> Talk To Ya' Later

  3. Bozo Filter List: List of email addresses that some email programs allow you to set. Email from any of these addresses will be discarded before you even see them.


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