Three Steps to Avoid Making Conflict Worse by E-mail
Jan laughed out loud while texting on her phone.
She went to input the word “e-mail” only for her finger to slip from the “i” to the “u.”
It came out “e-maul.” I had to laugh too.
Then it hit me. It happens. We get “emauled” by someone upset with us or vice versa.
Know what I mean? Not so funny, is it?
Criticism, judgment, blame–just to name a few of my favorite things–can come packaged in blistering digital correspondence.
The temptation is all too familiar as well. Fire back a well-deserved “e-maul” in return!
Before long a conflict grows.
Practicing three guidelines when reading an “e-maul” can help prevent an escalation of tensions.
These come from Stone, Patton, and Heen’s bestselling book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most (pp. 274-75).
One, question your attributions. E-mail as a form of serial monologue works great for information and affirmation.
It rarely, if ever, contributes to effective confrontation.
It lacks the non-verbal cues necessary to help size up a sender’s intentions–tough enough to read in face-to-face dialogue–behind what’s written.
The authors suggest a first step:
Remind yourself that you don’t actually know their intentions. Your initial reading is likely to be off-target as on. The sender may have mixed or even positive intentions, or, most often, no particular intention about you at all.
Two, hit pause. If an “e-maul” hijacks you with strong negative emotions, take a timeout.
Walk away long enough to allow for a more rational balanced response. More from the experts:
Often you’ll have the strange sensation of wondering why you felt so bent out of shape. But if, after taking some time, you’re still revved up, move to step three.
Three, pick up the phone or talk in person. I can’t improve on this counsel:
Bottom line: You can’t resolve an e-mail conflict with e-mail. For all practical purposes there are no exceptions to this rule. Once any sort of emotion enters the arena — annoyance, confusion, hurt, anxiety — it’s time to switch your mode of communication. “But I’m a good, clear writer,” you think. “I’ll be extra careful and thoughtful, and I’ll even take the high road.” Don’t get suckered in. Anything you write during a conflict can be taken the wrong way. … So save yourself a heap of trouble and pick up the phone or talk in person.
The ancient wisdom writer warns, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).
What goes for dialogue goes double for e-mail monologue–or should I say “e-maulologue?”
Just say no to “e-mauling.”
Question: What other tips do you have for a peacemaking ethic when it comes to using e-mail?