23 Aug 2014
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Think Before You Send

In the absence of body language, do you know the full effect of your email?

Think Before You Send

There’s something about email–something good and something not so good. Good or bad I use it. In fact I depend on it.

Something good: Email is fast and easy.

I can send messages anytime of the day or night without worrying that it might be too early or too late. With online banking I can pay bills and manage my account while I watch American Idol. I can broadcast a message or an invitation, create a poll or survey, and mail it to dozens of people at the same time. No searching for cards or stamps or worrying whether I’ve allowed enough time to get a birthday greeting to someone. Sending a message across the country or the globe takes no longer than sending one to my neighbor down the street. Ah, the power of instant gratification.

These things certainly make life simpler. But I have to be honest. An email message, no matter how delightful and positive, can’t trump an actual card or letter in my mailbox. 

Something not so good:  Email is impersonal.

Without audible or visible cues I don’t know the true effect of my words. If I can’t see your face, I can’t tell if my words made you angry, upset or hurt. I can’t be sure if my wisecrack was taken too seriously. That’s even true face to face, but it’s magnified with email.

Typed text has no inflection or expression beyond the word on the screen. Emoticons are cute, but they can’t replace a wink or a twinkle in the eye and they’ll never be as effective as a grin or a frown.  

Email provides a false sense of anonymity, a cloak of invisibility that makes cavalier disregard for another person’s feelings too easy. This makes me wonder sometimes if maybe the scale tips a bit too far in the negative direction.

It’s stunning to me how often emails on open list forums are used to dump vitriolic attacks on other people’s opinions. When I read these sarcastic or caustic messages I wonder if the writer gave any thought to editing before pushing the send button. I wonder if the sender cared how their message came across. It brings into question their intent. Do they realize the people on the receiving end are human beings with feelings and emotions? Or could these message be a way of striking the match of controversy?

Would the same words typed in such an email message be said aloud if people were sitting face to face or standing opposite each other. Maybe. Maybe not.

It makes me wonder about the messages I send. Are they decent? Polite? Civil? How would I feel if I was on the receiving end? Perhaps I should monitor my words more closely. I’m sure at times that’s true. A fit of pique or flash of anger can trigger an instant reaction in all of us. I’m not exempt.

We’ve all heard the expression: sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. Well, that’s not entirely true. Words can and do hurt. And words, once out there, cannot be retrieved or taken back.

And let’s not forget how easy it is to store email. A witty, flippant remark about a co-worker or an employer can turn up months even years later and end up an impediment to a promotion.

Mostly, the negative side of email makes me wonder about the state of manners beyond the electronic world. My father always used to say: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Wise words. Words I repeated to my children.

There’s another quote I once read: Listen before you speak, think before you write. Not bad advice, especially in the world of email.

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspiring?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

If the next email you write results in a “no” answer to any of these questions, maybe you shouldn't push send. Because there’s something about email.

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