Once upon a time, I brought forth the Ten Commandments of E-Mail Etiquette (Inbox, Oct. 17, 1999). Today, a lot of the advice seems quaint...
Once upon a time, I brought forth the Ten Commandments of E-Mail Etiquette (Inbox, Oct. 17, 1999). Today, a lot of the advice seems quaint. The idea that you shouldn’t send attachments because it clogs the recipient’s bandwidth is no longer valid (even though you still don’t want to open attachments from strangers).
That you should carefully comb each message for spelling and grammar mistakes also seems outdated. Part of this is attributable to the rise in instant messaging, which promotes such carelessness, and the notion that people know what you mean no matter how you spell it.
But it is the Ninth Commandment that still resonates after all these years: Wait before sending a flame. If you are still angry after an hour or two, by all means send it on. Otherwise, remember there is no real value in hurting somebody.
My recent life has been low-key and pressure-free, a land where people rarely get that lathered about anything. So sending a really nasty note is out of character.
Even so, it appears the general flame frequency has decreased in recent years. There are two reasons for this, reflecting both sides of human nature. People have stopped sending flames because we’ve all grown up a bit, learned how to use the technology and decided to act properly just because it is right. The second reason is that the flamers have realized they are accountable for every discouraging word they send.
They don’t much care about being hurtful. In fact, they enjoy that part. People sending a flame put their anger in writing, where it will live forever. The sender can get fired, sued or worse. They are behaving because they have to. But at least they are behaving.
I did get flamed recently, from an anonymous reader who impugned my choice of computers, my intelligence and my projected sexual preference. While I knew this message was utter nonsense, reading it was still like a kick in the head. We all need approval, and every time a message like this arrives you wonder, “Who is this person and why doesn’t he like me?”
After a while, I came up with the final rule of e-mail antagonism — that is, to use e-mail only for neutral communication or positive reinforcement. Nasty or negative news should be delivered in person. Call the person up, or meet him face to face to deliver your gripe. This helps to moderate your anger, as it gives the person a chance to respond immediately.
When I bounced this idea off of a friend, she said it was clear that I drew my first enlightened breath in the 1960s, and it wasn’t so enlightened after all. Negativity happens. And sometimes you need to express yourself clearly, in a way that it will get through. A pithy, intelligent — and nasty — e-mail message can be the only way.
So the original advice stands. If you need to get nasty, write it down but wait a few hours before sending it. If you are still mad, then let it rip.