Email mayhem should have its own course at business seminars, non-profit organization orientations, and civic meetings. The conversations around the dos and don’ts of emailing, and texting for that matter, can no longer be limited to young adults vying for future employment opportunities. Over the last several years, I have received the best of the best or the worst of the worst depending on how you read them of emails unsuitable for reprint and dying to be reposted. Several emails in the batch have left many folks speechless and have caused private issues to spill over in the business realm. Thinking back on my own email internet footprint, I shudder, now that I am older, wondering about what I sent without thinking or(over thought) once upon a time…or two or three. An email is an email, whether it is sent between the hours of 8-5 or 4 in the morning, today or ten years ago. But an email can also be demoralizing, even when it is not intended to be. Prayers cannot erase a mangled, disheartening email.
Since I write during wee hours of the morning, the most epic emails that I have read have been written while angels are asleep. The rants and ravings of minds gone mad, or drinking, have been put into emails and blasted to hundreds of individuals’ inboxes. I have read every vile thought that could be written about anyone by individuals who left professionalism on planet Mars. From insults to innuendos to threats to rambling disjointed piece mill thoughts that were meant to smear, or try destroy an individual's reputation. Confrontations by email are becoming a distasteful part of our culture. So distasteful, email mayhem has lawyers for those seeking legal recourse for what has been written by others in emails on and off the job.
When assaulting emails become part of regular correspondence from an individual or an organization, it is considered cyber bullying or cyber harassment. I used to call it ignorance or foolishness on steroids but the more I read, the more I agree to the legal definitions. I chose not to respond or deal with anyone who sends ranting emails to me directly or within a group. Period. Occasionally, I have responded with short replies to clarify a situation but never to engage a debate via email.
Once, I even sought legal counsel over an email sent to me that was so revolting that my printer sought therapy after I printed it out. Upon reading the email, the attorney began salivating and shared several emails over the years that he responded to on behalf of clients. Instead of being encouraged, I left his office dismayed that his binder was five inches thick with emails that were sent without regard by senders to receivers and the number of individuals copied. Who knew the consequences would result in staggering amounts in monetary compensations.
Having a column in print, on the web, and now, being a voice on the radio, I am keenly aware that what I say or write has consequences. The more interaction a person has with the public, the more the responsibility they have in how they use their words. This rule does not apply only to elected officials but even to civic and social organizations that serve the community.
In the world of instant viral communications, what we write even in private can come back to haunt an inbox. An email is permanent and can be lethal in its delivery. It can never be erased. Send wisely.
Tips for handling unprofessional emails in the workplace.
Try to avoid an escalation into an all out email war. Think carefully how to reply to the email.
Talk to colleagues or friends if you feel hurt. Don't bottle it up.
Ask for time to discuss your feelings with the sender, face to face if possible.
Emails can feel much worse than the sender intended: don't immediately launch into accusations.
Give the sender a chance to explain what they meant.
Try to work together to resolve underlying issues.
Seek agreement on a less abrupt way of communicating in future.
Keep a record of exchanges, so if the problem persists you can discuss it with a senior member of staff. By Brian Amble