If you were angry with a person, do you think that person would understand that you were hot and bothered? It’s not as simple a question as it seems. There are so many different forms of communication in business today. From the telephone, to email, to voicemail, to letters, there are a lot of ways to communicate today. That means there are a lot of ways to get it wrong. I was thinking about how effective we are at communicating to the people we work with what we really mean. I’m thinking that we really don’t communicate very well—or as well as we think we do.
After last week’s blog about family business shenanigans leading to fist fights at board meetings, this week I got I got a call from a friend of mine. She was furious after receiving an email. The more she thought about the email, the angrier she got. Then she called me. I wondered about this email. I had visions of profanity and lots of exclamation marks. When I heard the email I was really surprised. Here’s what happened.
My friend started with, “I got the most inflammatory email. It was almost threatening. I can’t believe the tone that guy took.” Now, I was curious. The email started with, “I was unable to contact you by phone since there was no telephone number listed on your website. I’m sending this email instead.”
This woman does extensive volunteer work for an education nonprofit. They have a website. Because it’s a bare-bones operation and the money raised goes to education activities, there is no office. On the website there’s a post office box for a mail address. There’s also an email address. There is no contact telephone number. So I asked her, “It sounds as if he’s just telling you why he decided to email you. If there’s no phone how would he call you anyway?”
Then the email writer went on to say that his group was going to honor educators at a banquet and welcomed the woman’s nonprofit participation. He would like to discuss the nonprofit’s participation and he gave his phone number. She interpreted his request as a demand for money. I didn’t hear it. I told her so. I’ll bet the email writer had no idea that his words created such a reaction.
What about your emails? You may have received emails that raised your hackles. Did you respond too quickly? How many emails have you sent that you wished you could take back? What’s even scarier are the number of emails you sent that you had no idea they were raising the recipient’s blood pressure even a little. Think you haven’t done that? I’ll bet you’re wrong. How do I know? Just like with my friend, communication is open to interpretation.
What’s the answer? Think twice before you email someone when you are angry. Don’t do it. Always reread what you write and make sure it can’t be misunderstood. How? Be as clear as you can. Even better, if you can pick up the phone, do it. You can at least hear when someone is angry and address it right then. Even better, there’s no paper trail for the reader to stew over hours after the email is read. I hope my friend remembers this when she chooses how she responds to the email.