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Please don’t email me in that tone of voice

I'm sorry; did my email set your inbox on fire?
I'm sorry; did my email set your inbox on fire?

Is it just me, or does email made it easier for someone to be rude? I’m not talking about the “Oh, I didn’t get your email” dodge, or the terse “OK” response.

I’m talking about full-on, flat-out rudeness.

Case in point: I serve on the board of my property owners association in a small community outside Berkeley Springs, WV. It’s a volunteer position, and most of my efforts are limited to taking notes at the quarterly meeting, updating the owner address list, and – along with my fellow board members – ensuring that owners comply with our community’s bylaws when they build new or remodel existing structures.

Recently, one of our owners submitted a request to build a new structure on his property, a request that was denied since the board members felt the structure did not meet the standards clearly outlined in the bylaws. The owner was sent a brief – but extremely polite – email notifying him of the denial and the reasons for it.

What we received in response was an absolutely scathing email, full of accusations of discrimination, attacks on our character (and patriotism for denying the owner “his God-given right” to build on his property), and thinly-veiled threats of legal action against the individual board members and the community as a whole.

I get that the owner was disappointed, and maybe even frustrated. However, I doubt that he would ever think to take that tone during a face-to-face conversation or a phone call.

Maybe he should have followed the advice offered in a satirical piece in The Onion “Study: All American problems could be solved by just stopping and thinking for two seconds."

Now that email is the primary vehicle for internal communications in most businesses, I wonder how many “flaming” emails are received on an average day, and what percentage could be eliminated if the author just ‘stopped and thought for two seconds’ before hitting “send.”

My guess: 75%.


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