Communicating by Email

Many people find it easier to express themselves in writing than to deal with sensitive or difficult issues in person. Because of its speed and accessibility, electronic mail, or "email", has become a convenient way to communicate with co-workers, colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, sending email messages may not be the best way to communicate if you're involved in conflict with someone. That's because when we send and receive email, we do not have facial expressions, eye contact, body language, hand gestures, tone of voice or other cues that help us to know what a person wants to convey. In the absence of such information, people can easily misinterpret the intention of the sender's message.

Are you involved in a tense relationship with a colleague or friend? Your email could be contributing to the problem! Why not take the time to sit down and talk rather than discussing the issue by email? Why not consider picking up the phone rather than airing your frustrations on facebook, twitter, or other electronic bulletin boards? If you absolutely must communicate by email, strive to be civil, polite, and respectful. The following tips may help you to avoid or minimize conflict in your interpersonal interactions.

Think Before Your Write

Once you send an email message, you cannot retrieve it or take it back. It can be printed, saved, forwarded, or otherwise shared by the recipient much more easily than other types of communication. Messages posted in a public forum can be read by a wide variety of people. Prior to sending email, be sure to give careful consideration to what you wish to say and how you wish to say it. When composing the message, try to imagine how the recipient will interpret your words. Always review messages before you send them to ensure that your meaning is clear and that they are conveying what you really want to say. Never write anything in an email that you would not want to have publicized widely. Never use email to convey anything that, if forwarded or overheard, could be damaging or embarrassing.

No Bad News

Avoid using email or electronic bulletin boards to convey bad news or controversial information. email should never be used when criticizing, reprimanding, evaluating, or firing someone. Public forums, should not be used to denounce, degrade or spread rumors about others. In these and other sensitive situations, there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting or a telephone conversation.

Take it Offline!

Personal conflicts should never be addressed using email or electronic bulletin boards. They are best handled privately -- either in person or by telephone.

Never initiate an email message or respond to someone else's message when you are angry, frustrated or tired. If necessary, take some time to calm down and reflect on the situation. It may also be helpful for you to delay sending a message (by saving it as a draft or by selecting the "postpone" option in Pine) for at least an hour while you gain clarity about the issue. Avoid sending email that contains angry outbursts, abusive or insulting language, sarcasm, irony, and certain types of humor that could be misinterpreted by readers. As a rule of thumb, if you would not say something in person, don't say it online.

Should you receive an email message that you view negatively, take some time to think about it prior to responding. With email, it is so easy to fire off a defensive, curt or bad-tempered reply without taking time to reflect on the situation or to consider the best means of responding. A hasty response can be quite costly and can ruin your chances of finding a mutually satisfying solution to the conflict. Is it possible that you may have misunderstood the person's meaning? It may be helpful to speak to the sender or to an impartial person, such as the Ombudsperson, to determine other ways to interpret the message. Be sure to save the messages you send, just in case you are involved in a dispute with someone.

Don't Shout!

AVOID TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. This practice signifies shouting and may be interpreted as being rude and offensive.

Chain, Chain, Chain…

Many people dislike receiving jokes and junk mail (unsolicited messages) electronically. In some instances, sending such email may be considered a form of harassment. If you choose to send or forward such email, be sure that you know your recipients and that they welcome it. Chain letters (which encourage you to forward them to several other people) are not only annoying; the college prohibits them. Passing chain letters along can lead to suspension of your computer account.

Patience is a Virtue

After you send a message, be sure to allow ample time for the recipient to read and respond to your letter. Don't assume that the recipient will read the letter as soon as he or she receives it.

Need Help?

Call the Ombudsperson - The Ombudsperson offers conflict resolution services to all Mount Holyoke community members. The Ombuds Office is a safe environment for resolving difficult issues. Please feel free to contact the office for more information or for an appointment.

The Ombudsperson offers conflict resolution services to all Mount Holyoke community members.  The Ombuds is a safe environment for resolving difficult issues. Please feel free to contact the office for more information or for an appointment.

What if I Have Other Questions?

If you have questions, please contact the Ombudsperson.

By Sherry Turner