Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Twitter, Timidity, and Email

The mean comments on Twitter are often attributed to the fact that the person making the remarks is not in the presence of his or her target and may, in fact, even be anonymous. There's no serious danger of retribution. The mean Tweeter is a verbal sniper firing from cover. The frequency of that practice has added to the shabbiness of our times.

But let's consider a practice that is less reprehensible: the use of email. It is difficult to deny that email is convenient. Rather than playing phone tag or having to arrange a meeting, we fire off an email. There now, that's done. Now the ball is in the other court. The person has been notified.

Which brings up another question: How often is email used when the motive is not convenience, but timidity? You don't need to speak with the person. Like the people on Twitter, you just need to send it off. True, you are not anonymous, but with email you don't need to experience the person's frowns or immediate reactions. By choosing email, you have put emotional distance between you and the recipient.

And emotional distance is yet another characteristic of our times. When it comes to communication that is unpleasant, emails and Tweets are cruise missiles: easy to fire and with little danger of direct retaliation. The damage is to the relationship. On Twitter, of course, relationships have no value when trolls are involved. They just move on to other victims.  But in the workplace, it can be very harmful if relationships take second place to convenience and safety.

That's a reason why, when it comes to sensitive subjects, it is both decent and wise to go see the person or to call. If email is absolutely necessary, then terseness should be replaced by an appropriate tone. There is always a human being at the receiving end. It should be clear that there is one at the sending.

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