E-mail Is A Selfish Monologue

Here are some of the common types of e-mail I deal with daily.

  1. The cover your buttocks or legal contract.
  2. The texting or chit chat.
  3. The instruction manual.
  4. The passing the buck.
  5. The bullying.

What do all these types have in common? They are sequential 1-sided interaction.

Let’s explore.

#1 – The sender uses this e-mail as a defensive tactic just in case something bad happens. It’s “insurance.” It can be used as evidence to make someone pay for wrong doings or protect ourselves from fault.

#2 – Participants generally respond with short sentences in quick succession as if they were texting each other. 20 e-mails later there might be a resolution.

#3 – These are the 2,000 word essays. The sender thinks they are freeing themselves from all future questions. This is more about the sender trying to convey how much they know about something than communicating.

#4 – The sender likes to point out a problem, submit requests, or forward e-mails and then disconnects from the situation. This is an “is not my problem” tactic.

#5 – Dropping some big names in the “cc” line, or angrily reprimanding for a missed deadline or mistake are common uses of this type of e-mail. The sender is just trying to use force or fear to get what they want.

The lesson

I’ve being victim and perpetrator of each of these types. Here’s what I know.

In all cases, there are two independent interpretations. Both, the sender and receiver, tell themselves a story. Since text has no visual cues, the interpreter generally uses present mood and the impression they have of the person to give meaning to the words.

The words “Where’s my stuff?” can elicit a totally different reaction from me depending if it’s my boss, sister, best friend, nemesis, or stranger typing.

In short, what I read is processed through my mind’s eye and nothing else. There’s no body language, no room energy, no secondary reaction from observers, just me, my mood, and my perception of you. Chances are, you are doing the same with what I send you.

It takes more than the written word to create communication.

Jon Gordon says “when there’s a void, negativity fills it.” In the absence of visual cues, we are bound to create a negative picture of words in the e-mail.

How are you using e-mail to communicate? How can leaders connect through writing?


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