There are a number of terms for the exchange offensive emails, among them flame Wars. I write about these extensively in my book, noted below and also with this blog. Below is some wonderful advice for avoiding these situations.
The Cure for Nasty Emails
Dressing someone down via email is tempting because it's easy--you have plenty of time to dream up daggers that strike straight to the heart.
By Travis Bradberry
We've all been on the receiving end of a scathing email, as well as its mysterious, vaguely insulting cousins. You know the messages I'm referring to. They don't need exclamation points or all caps to teem with anger and drip with sarcasm.
Dressing someone down via email is tempting because it's easy--you have plenty of time to dream up daggers that strike straight to the heart, and you lack the inhibition that would be present were the recipient staring you in the face.
This type of email is known in cyberspace as "flaming," and all such messages have a single thing in common--a complete and utter lack of emotional intelligence (EQ).
A recent survey (sponsored by communications device manufacturer Plantronics) found that 83 percent of today's work force consider email to be more critical to their success than any other form of communication.
Email has been around long enough that you'd think we'd all be pros at using it to communicate effectively. But we're human, and--if you think about it--we haven't mastered face-to-face communication, either.
The bottom line is that we could all use a little help. The five strategies that follow are proven methods for keeping your emotions within reason, so that you don't hit Send while your emails, tweets, comments, and chime-ins are still flaming.
1. Follow Honest Abe's First Rule of Netiquette
I know what you're thinking: How could someone who died more than a century before the internet existed teach us about email etiquette?
Well, in Lincoln's younger years, he had a bad habit of applying his legendary wit when writing insulting letters to, and about, his political rivals. But after one particularly scathing letter led a rival to challenge Lincoln to a duel, Lincoln learned a valuable lesson: Words impact the receiver in ways that the sender can't completely fathom.
By the time he died, Lincoln had amassed stacks of flaming letters that verbally shredded his rivals and subordinates for their boneheaded mistakes--because Lincoln never sent them. He vented his frustration on paper, and then stuffed that sheet away in a drawer. The following day, the full intensity of his emotions having subsided, he wrote and sent a much more congenial and conciliatory letter.
We can all benefit from learning to do the same with email. Your emotions are a valid representation of how you feel--no matter how intense-- but that doesn't mean that acting on them in the moment serves you well. Go ahead and vent--tap out your anger and frustration on the keyboard. Save the draft, and come back to it later when you've cooled down. By then, you'll be rational enough to edit the message and pare down the parts that burn, or--even better--rewrite the kind of message that you want to be remembered by.
2. Know the Limits of Virtual Humor
Some people show their displeasure by typing words in ALL CAPS or using a barrage of exclamation points. Others, however, express dissatisfaction more subtly, with sarcasm and satire. The latter is no less of a breakdown in the core EQ skill of self-management, and it can be even more dangerous because it's harder to detect when you're doing it. The sender can always convince him- or herself that the spite was just a little joke.
While a little good-natured ribbing can sometimes help lighten face-to-face interaction--interaction with an arsenal of facial expressions and voice inflections to help you to convey the right tone--it's almost never a good idea to have a laugh at someone else's expense online.
Online, your message can too easily be misinterpreted without your body language to help to explain it, and you won't be there to soften the blow when your joke doesn't go over as intended. In the virtual world, it's best to err on the side of friendliness and professionalism. For those times when you absolutely cannot resist using humor, just make sure that you are the butt of the joke.
3. Remember That People Online Are Still People
While entranced by the warm glow of a computer monitor, it's sometimes difficult to remember that a living, breathing human being will end up reading your message. Psychologist John Suler of Rider University has found that people who are communicating online experience a "disinhibition effect." Lacking the real-time feedback between sender and receiver that takes place in face-to-face and telecommunication, we simply don't worry as much about offending people online.
We don't have to experience the discomfort of watching someone else grow confused, despondent, or angry because of something we said. When these natural consequences are delayed, we tend to spill onto the screen whatever happens to be on our mind.
Averting such messages requires you to be intentional in applying your social awareness skills. Without being able to physically see the other person's body language or hear the tone of his or her voice, you must picture the recipient in your mind and imagine what the person might feel when reading your message as it's been written.
In fact, the next time you receive a curt or outright rude email, put the brakes on before firing back a retort. Taking the time to imagine the sender and consider where he or she is coming from is often enough to extinguish the flames before they get out of control.
Could the sender have misinterpreted a previous message that you sent him or her? Could the person just be having a bad day, or be under a lot of pressure? Even when the other party is in the wrong, spending a moment on the other side of the monitor will give you the perspective you need to avoid escalating the situation.
4. Know How the Internet Feels
Emoticons have a mixed reputation in the business world. Some people and even organizations believe that smiley faces, winks, and other symbols of digital emotion are unprofessional, undignified, and have no place outside of a high school hallway.
However, a Dutch research team has shown that emoticons, when used properly, can effectively enhance the desired tone of a message. The team, led by Daantje Derks at the Open University of the Netherlands, concluded that "to a large extent, emoticons serve the same functions as actual nonverbal behavior." Considering that nonverbal behavior accounts for between 70 and 90 percent of a message when communicating face to face, it's time to ditch the stigma attached to emoticons in the business setting.
For those leery of dropping a smiley face into the next email, I'm not suggesting that you smile, wink, and frown your way through every email you write. Just don't be afraid to peck out a quick the next time you want to be certain that the recipient is aware of your tongue planted firmly in cheek.
5. Know When Online Chats Need to Become Offline Discussions
Managing online relationships will always be a somewhat difficult task for people built to communicate in person. However, managing critical email conversations is even more difficult for those programmed to communicate via email. Significant, lengthy, and heated email exchanges are almost always better taken offline and finished in person.
With so much communication via email these days, it can be hard to pull the trigger and initiate a face-to-face conversation when you sense that an interaction is becoming too heated or difficult to do well online. Online technologies have become enormously useful for increasing the speed and efficiency of communication, but they have a long way to go before they become the primary source for creating and maintaining quality human relationships.
Bringing It All Together
Email is a challenging way to communicate strong emotions. I look forward to reading about your experiences and strategies in the Comments section.From Inc.com Published on: Apr 9, 2015
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