Email Principles to Relate By

“I owe you an apology.”
Thus began my conversation with a colleague earlier this week. In a single email I had obliterated my three rules of when NOT to write an email. I really blew it.

Efficiency is NOT the Greatest Value of our Times
I’m “old-ish” enough to remember pre-email days. Back then I lived and worked in Asia. It took a lot longer to get stuff done. Which wasn’t all bad.

Now that we have email, its tempting to communicate anything and everything that way. Often this is done without thinking whether email is actually the best medium for communicating what needs to be said. Efficiency has become too important a value in our time-driven world. Getting more stuff done faster is not always wise. Nor loving.

I cannot count the number of people who have expressed deep hurt at information communicated via an email that ought have been communicated in person (ideally) or at least a call (if that is all that can be done for now).  Frequently this hurt has come from an organizational leader.

As with most tech, advances have outgrown agreed upon cultural manners.

Relationship is still the supreme value. Relationship trumps efficiency all day long everyday. Relationship is worth the cost, the time, and the effort. An email can save me time, an actual conversation can save me a relationship.

Principles that Have Saved Me From Hurting Others (When I Live by Them)
My offense toward my workmate was not caused by a concern for efficiency. No, it was a thoughtless email sent rashly amidst tiredness, hurt, and confusion. That email ought have never been sent. Here is why:

Principle #1: Never send an email when what needs to be communicated is better discussed in person, or in the least a phone call. Some matters are simply too weighty, personal, or significant to be stated in an email. Take the time, its a relational investment.

Principle #2: Never send anything in an email that may be construed as negative, hurtful, or confusing by the recipient. There have been times I have written out an email, reread it, then realized that if I were receiving this news this way it would not be good. I hit delete and picked up the phone.

Principle #3: Never send an email when I am tired, confused about the situation, and especially if I am full of emotions of hurt or anger. When this stuff is whirling in me, what comes out is usually less than redemptive.

In a single email last week I broke all three of these rules. It was a severe case of self-inflicted amnesia. I was full of #3 and thus forgot #1 and #2. The next morning I was stunned at my relational insensitivity. Again.

I did not write an email apologizing. I didn’t even call. As soon as we could, my friend and I met over lunch and the first thing out of my mouth after  greeting him was, “I owe you an apology….” Thankfully he forgave me as trust could have been eroded.

What are your email rules and principles? Please do share. Obviously, I still have more to learn. 

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