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05 Jun '13

Deadly emails

Posted by T.J. Addington
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with email. On the one hand it is handy, on the other it can get out of control and start to control our lives. More significantly it is a terrible means of communication if there is any potential conflict involved. Email tends to escalate conflict and create misunderstandings. And we tend to be far more discourteous in emails than we would be in person.

Email communication is a bad idea in conflictual situations because it is easy to say things in a way we would not communicate in person and we cannot read the tone and body language of those we are talking to. Nor can we ask questions and seek clarification. Rather than solving a problem, email often creates greater problems. Don't use email as a substitute for a personal conversation by phone, Skype or in person when there is any possibility of misunderstanding.

I especially abhor the CC tab on emails that should go to the person we are dealing with rather than to the whole world. CC'ing others only broadens potential misunderstandings but is often a means of putting pressure on someone to respond the way we want them too since we have now raised the stakes by bringing others into the issue. 

The CC tab often violates the principle that we communicate with the individual with which we have a question or issue, rather than broadcasting it to a larger audience. My general rule is that if people are CC'd inappropriately I will only respond to the appropriate individual(s). 

Email's can be used to make assumptions about motives - which becomes a charge, rather than conversations where we are far more likely to ask questions of clarification. Because people often feel attacked in an inappropriate email they will often attack back which escalates rather than deescalates tension. 

Finally, don't hit the send button until you have read through one's email with this question: How will others likely read what I just wrote? Email's written in emotion usually express emotion that we don't really want to express - anger. Again, far better to ask some neutral questions for clarity than to fire off an angry email. You cannot take words back that have been released.

The book of James talks about the power of the tongue for good or for evil. It it was written today I suspect that the power of email communication would also be included. It can heal or wound.