Howard’s New Email Etiquette

It’s sad. Technology has created a world where it seems easier to put everything in email instead of having an actual conversation. When faced with a difficult or touchy situation, it seems easier to tap out a 5-paragraph email and CC everyone in the world. But once we hit ‘send’, our stomach drops and we wait anxiously for the aftermath of replies.

I’m certainly guilty of this. Only now that I am aware of it, I’ve made a resolution (early New Year’s resolution perhaps) to redefine how I use email. I’ve realized that while it may seem easier to handle touchy issues in email, and while it may seem prudent to have a written and dated record of this information, in the long run email doesn’t makes a difficult situation easier to handle. In fact, it may make it harder.

Here’s a personal example (names have been omitted to protect the innocent). One of my clients is a company with multiple owners—one of them has some issues with me. In the course of my consulting duties I discovered a situation that needed to be brought to the attention of the other owners. I wrote what I thought was a very politically correct email and copied all the important people. The guy who has the problem with me interpreted this as “ratting him out”. In reality I didn’t rat out anyone, I was trying to do my job and protect the company, but he read into it negatively because of personal feelings toward me.

This situation illustrates key facts about email:

  1. Email doesn’t convey tone or emphasis.
  2. What your recipients think about you influences how they interpret your email.
  3. Difficult issues inevitably become more difficult when put into writing.
  4. We spend more time drafting email and cleaning up the resulting mess, than if we had just picked up the phone and talked it out.

I’ve begun asking myself: Is this right for email or is this better discussed in a phone call or in-person discussion? I have found that many times, the mere fact that I have asked this question to begin with means it is a conversation better suited for a phone call.

My new rule of thumb: Pause.

When drafting a difficult or touchy email, get all your thoughts down. Refine it. Massage it. Then pause. Before you hit ‘send’, ask yourself if this message has the potential to be ‘the email heard round the world’, igniting a firestorm of reply-alls. If the answer is yes, then pick up the phone and use your beautifully crafted email as an outline for your conversation.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies and people that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please visit his website at  or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or .