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Friday, May 31, 2013

Part 5: Hiding Behind Your Computer

Have you ever received an email, a post, a tweet with a zinger?  Not necessarily something someone would say to you “in person,” but feel perfectly comfortable saying it virtually.  After speaking with various professionals spanning occupations, I've concluded this hiding is a virus sweeping the nation.  People feel empowered through their computer (look at this blog, for instance), and feel free to fire off unseemly correspondence without great contemplation.  Whereas if they had to stand toe-to-toe with a living, breathing human being, most of their words would not be uttered.  

I have a few firm rules when posting online or in using email: 
  1. If you need to see my face to truly appreciate my comment, don’t type it.  We discussed the importance of body language earlier in the series.  Tone of voice is another biggie.  People read tone into messages that are intended to have a completely different tone than the sender proposed.  I could forward you a message from a third party and ask you, “What do you think of this?”  You could read it as inflammatory, curious, or sarcastic.  I could forward you the same message and TELL you what I think of it and wonder what your thoughts are – this comes across slightly different.  It's all about tone.  I've already stated my position and am asking for your feedback.  Tone of voice and body language go a long way in communicating.  Don't forget it.
  2. If it’s confrontational in any sense, don’t type it.  If you need to file a complaint with a company, by all means, bone up on your vocabulary and sound professional.  If you have a beef with a neighbor, friend or colleague, by all means, state your position and go to them directly.  One on one!  “I really don’t like it when you leave your old coffee cups on my desk.”  Hey, your co-worker may be less than enthused with your comment, but they don’t have to wade through a tirade on desk clutter, bacteria, and the attributes of recycling.  Be forthright, direct, and kind and end the quiet seething you're doing.
  3. If it’s implying any sort of contrary behavior, don’t type it.  If you think someone is acting in a way that is contrary to what you believe is appropriate, tell them.  Or let them learn through natural consequences – it’s the best teacher, anyway.  Do you really think your explaining poor behavior in an email will somehow be less offensive than having the conversation?  Look at it from the outside in and think twice.
  4. If you wouldn't say it directly to the person the message is intended for, don’t type it.  Often taking the time to craft your message could be spent in dialogue ending the issue.  When you receive lengthy correspondence (often condemning), the absolute BEST response to this is no response at all.  Why bother?  They don’t really want your reply.  They want you to apologize for some unforgivable sin and promise to never, ever do it again – all the while praising them for glorious insight and saving the world.  Okay, that may be a bit dramatic – but I’m right, and we both know it.  Also, know full well when someone goes ahead and does whatever the said unforgivable offense is anyway, that if you've sent that long message, you've gone a long way toward alienating them versus finding a workable solution.  
  5. If it’s longer than five sentences, just pick up the phone.  How many of you have even made it to the end of this article?  In a Twitter world, I need a soundbite not a diatribe.  Unfortunate, but true.  If it’s too long we don’t read it.  We scan, we pick out highlighted, bold, important words/phrases.  When it’s longer than five sentences (I cut myself off at three .... and a bulleted list is even better), so much gets lost in translation and you wind up with more questions than answers.  Maybe you need the obligatory email, “sounds like we should talk.  I have time this evening.  Schedule it and avoid phone tag.  Usually, the actual conversation is much better than how you've built it up in your mind.

Remember, people don’t really 
want conflict –
they desire resolution.  

Conversations go much better than email rants.  Is having the conversation hard?  Maybe.  So’s life.  So put on your big girl panties and develop a new skill!

I said it before and it bears repeating: in all correspondence and conversation, assume the best until proven otherwise.  Begin with the end in mind.  Be truthful, kind, and gentle.  Both parties should leave the conversation better for having the discussion.

Series Highlights

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