Thursday, March 04, 2010

Conflict AND Why Email Can Be A Bad Way To Communicate

We have to be careful. A quickly written email can easily take on a life of its own and offend another person. It is hard to come back from a bad first impression.

It happens to everyone. Innuendo and meaning of the written word can easily get off track, and not come across the same as if you were speaking. This can cause the other person to jump to conclusions and become upset. At the very least it can harm their opinion of you. Maybe forever.

I had it happen to me today. I sent an email to someone I met recently, and it caused a conflict. Upon re-reading what I wrote, I can see exactly how it got off track. My intended meaning of the email, and the way it read were not in sync. Not good. But a life lesson.

The details of the story or with whom I was in conflict are not relevant to this blog post. Lets just say I made an assumption about how someone "felt" about a situation, and coupled that with an interpretation of how they acted. I injected my own "feelings" and sent an email.

Granted, I was not calling the person out or trying to be rude... in fact, I was trying to build a bridge for future interactions, but I came off as a bit arrogant, and maybe dismissive. It made the other person mad and they called me out on it.

If one is seeking to grow in life, such happenings are not simply random occurrences, but instead they are sign-posts to help us learn about ourselves. People come into our lives with all different types of experiences, expectations, personality types, etc.... We cannot assume that we all have the same goals and desires or that we are at the same stages along our paths.

I embrace when I make a mistake and I ponder the whole event so that I can come out the other side with more knowledge, maturity and smarts for the next time (because Lord knows, it is not the last time I will screw up!).

It is easy to miss the right ways to communicate with each person we encounter. It is easy to judge. It is easy to not like someone for how they behave. We all see situations from our own point of view.

We live in a day when email is pervasive, but it is not always the best tool to being true understanding between human beings. I think if I had made a phone call the whole thing would have been a positive experience.

In the end, this person may not forgive me. They may forever view me in a negative light. That I cannot control, but I can make sure I am more careful in the future.

How about you? Have you ever gotten off on the wrong foot with someone? Share your story with me.

Have A Great Day.



Unknown said...

Oh yeah, been there, done that! I think it's useful to remember the potential misinterpretation when you RECEIVE an email that irritates you as well. Because they are often short, and thus lack context, they are open to misinterpretation. Suggestion: if an email angers you, close it and let the steam burn off. Then open it again and consider whether or not you might be misinterpreting it. I also think the best response to such an email is the same as Thom's conclusion about sending the email: pick up the phone (when you are not angry) and call to inquire about the real meaning of the message!


Unknown said...

Thom -

A part of me hates admitting this...but the very act of just getting out of bed in the morning (or STAYING in bed, come to think of it) contains risk.

Yeah, those "post-event" forensic reviews of my quickly cobbled together emails can take me to the "boy, why did I phrase it THAT way" world...and have me get all significant about it.

While I trying to get past my thoughts that "I'm not a good writer" I have come to realize that I typically write over 40emails/texts/documents on any given workday. Hopefully I've learned a thing or two from my decades of "email mistakes".

For better or worse, one of the habits I have taken on is reading, re-reading and re-re-reading my messages subvocally to see how they MIGHT land "over there". I have to admit that part of that strategy is so my message will "look smart". And part is to try and minimize the "p*ss-off effect".

Ugh. It takes time. The amount is directly proportional to the length of the email PLUS the importance of and number of the intended recipients. I sometimes think that I am being overly cautious. Perhaps I am.

The net result is that I don't get AS MANY reports from irritated readers...but they still come.

Ultimately, I have finally gotten to the point of "can't please all of the people all of the time." I can live with that. When I can't...I phone.