An e-mail lesson

An e-mail lesson

E-mail works in wondrous ways. If we need to communicate information quickly; to reach many people at the same time; to have a record of a written conversation; or to transmit documents that might take a fax machine minutes and the post office days, we can send an e-mail easily and cheaply.

But, we’re also all aware of the dangers of e-mail. We get too many of them, for starters, including the jokes and cute stories sent by friends, accompanied by a “cc list” the length of the Nile. We use “e-mail shorthand” and sometimes lose the ability to write meaningfully. We even use e-mail to avoid the face-to-face conversation we should be having – at work, for example, who hasn’t had the experience of e-mailing or texting colleagues back and forth when getting up, walking 10 feet and speaking would be so much more effective (and quicker)? But, I’m here to tell you about a recent experience I had with e-mail and offer some advice that might help us with e-mails and with some other very important aspects of life.

Recently, I wrote an e-mail to a former colleague with whom I wanted to re-connect. I asked her to meet with me because I thought it would give me a chance to get some information I needed and, possibly, to renew our relationship. Almost immediately, I received a short e-mail in response, “Don’t want to meet.”

Boy, was I thrown for a loop. Having read these four short words on my computer screen, my brain raced faster than the electricity used to convey the message. What had I done to aggravate this person? OK, she didn’t want to meet but couldn’t she have been a little nicer about it? Didn’t the 10 or so years we worked together deserve even a pronoun, if not some polite explanation? My stomach sank, as I felt like I had committed some grievous ““ hopefully unintentional – relationship sin in the past, and my mind worked overtime to try to figure out what it was.

Lucky for me, within the hour I received another e-mail from this same person. She apologized for her curt reply and explained that she had been cut off in mid-sentence. She explained that her schedule wouldn’t allow a meeting but that she’d be happy to speak by phone… and we set up a time to do so.

OK, so what had happened? Psychologists call it, “Projection.” That is, I took a situation that included very little information and inferred ““ at an amazingly quick rate ““ that the situation was a result of something to do with me. In fact, that wasn’t the case at all. My former colleague, like many of us, is very busy, probably gets hundreds of e-mails a day, and hit the “SEND” button too quickly.

And, let that be a lesson to us all, a lesson that can be learned from my e-mail experience but that has applicability elsewhere ““ namely, We Are Not the Center of Everyone Else’s Life! When faced with someone who is curt, or angry, or distracted, or, or, or… let’s ask ourselves if we’re the cause but let’s not assume we are. If we’re looking for a job, for example, and the hiring manager or HR professional doesn’t return our calls within a day, let’s not assume we didn’t get the job; maybe the other person has a crisis at work. If our boss cancels a meeting with us, maybe we’re not getting fired; maybe he or she has been called in by another higher-up or maybe is leaving the office to attend a child’s school play.

The bottom line is – get all the information we can about the situation and then… be cool. It isn’t always about us.