For some people, being behind the wheel gives them a sense of power and control that can be dangerous. The same is true when it comes to putting someone behind the wheel of an e-mail. They can treat people in ways they wouldn’t think of doing when they are their every day pedestrian selves. I am by no means the first to make the observation about automobiles and I don’t have any damned idea of I am the first to make the analogy between e-mail and automobile drivers. I do think folks in both categories may see themselves as road warriors. On closer examination, I think it is more accurate to call these folks wounded-by-life road warriors, i.e., emotionally wounded road warriors.
It is only recently that I’ve begun to realize that the behavior of the wounded road warrior is mirrored by the behavior of the wounded e-mail warrior. After all, an e-mail, like a car, is a vehicle that provides an outer shell of sorts, a shield if you will. Each afford some people a false sense of safety that they may struggle to find in their daily lives. It gives them a chance to assert themselves in ways they find impossible when they are, for lack of a better phrase, out in the open. You are in the drivers seat (or so you think) when you are writing an e-mail, or, in some instances, not writing an e-mail.
Drivers can cut off other drivers; e-mail drivers can be cryptic and rude, using a one word responses or short phrases to sting, wound, display what is essentially a rather sad attempt at bravado. Drivers can drive far below the speed limit and act as if they are oblivious to the fact their driving is needlessly creating traffic. Never mind that the heavier the traffic, the greater the risk of accidents. E-mail drivers can be equally slow to respond to the e-mails of others, causing a backlog of questions, doubts, resentments. E-mail patterns like this have damaged and derailed business deals, sent staff morale plummeting into the abyss, and derailed many a friendship and romance.
E-mail drivers like this are the Sunday drivers of the Internet. I know quite a few people who have no problem ignoring the e-mails of others. God forbid if you are slow to respond to their e-mail or, God forbid, you choose not to respond at all. I can think of two company owners who ignore many an e-mails yet will react with a mix of haughty indignation and childlike petulance if their e-mails are not responded to right away, and in tones of pristine and humble politeness for good measure.
Whatever happened to do unto others as you would want them to do unto you? Whatever happened to basic politeness and consideration? Whatever happened to respect? For me, that’s what this all boils down to: respect. Respect for one another ought to be a given, not something that needs to be earned. When you write an e-mail to someone, here’s a novel idea, here’s a novel idea, pretend you are writing them a letter – because you are!
Even if it is brief, it is still a letter. Try using a nice salutation. Here’s one, perhaps you’ve heard it. Dear Peter…or, Dear Rebecca…or Dear Jane….and of course, the most famous salutation of them all, Dear John… And then, when you finish your e-mail, you can sign off with something like, oh, I don’t know, Sincerely, Mabel…or, Yours truly, Biff….or, as I like to end my e-mails, Warmth and respect, Peter.
For those of you who simply don’t respond when people write to you, what are you thinking? How would you feel if you wrote to someone and they didn’t write back? Would you feel good? I don’t think so. Would you feel respected? Not likely.
So whether you are on the paved highway or the Internet highway, why don’t we all try and be a little nicer to one another? Because hey, life is tough enough as it is, even when when we are being nice to one another.
And think about this, when life gets tough, as it does for all of us, it has to help knowing we are treated with respect by those that know us, whether that respect is in person, on the roads, or in our e-mails.
Warmth and respect to you all,