Stop! Don’t Send That Email!



Stop! Don't send that email.

Have you ever wished for an “unsend” button so you could take it all back?


Email may have its useful purposes, but when it comes to difficult or emotionally-charged topics it’s better to avoid it altogether. It’s almost funny: We desire nothing more complicated than to express our thoughts, feelings, sentiments, or otherwise, and yet so often the message received is misinterpreted. Is the act to convert thoughts to writing doomed from the get go? To my great frustration and despair, far too many of my attempts to email loved ones about topics close to my heart have ended in disaster.


No more emotionally-charged emails for me.

I’m done writing long-winded emails on emotionally charged topics. Every time I do it ends up in disaster.


No More


I used to think I did a pretty good job expressing myself in writing. Now, the older I get the more I find that notion was a self-serving illusion. In fact, it’s so bad at times that I hereby vow I will no longer use this method when I want to communicate something critically important.


One might naturally conclude writing is the best form of communication. After all, the writer can take the time to carefully hone his or her thoughts. This can feel critical if you consider yourself verbally challenged during a face-to-face conversation. You can also try out different words and phrases until you zero in on the meaning you hope to express. You can then edit and re-edit, until the message you end up with is so clear it ought to be comprehensible to a 4 year old. Best of all, email leaves a record of what is said so you can go back and review it should clarification be necessary. Yes, it all sounds peachy on the surface.


Unfortunately, even when I approach with great caution, take time to reflect, and then carefully edit to my heart’s content, an email rarely achieves the desired end result. And when the issue I’m trying to communicate is emotionally charged success is even less likely.


What goes wrong? Why is effective communication so difficult with email?


10 Reasons Email Bites


Hey, why not just talk to the wall?

Emailing is a little like talking to a wall. You don’t really know who’s on the other side or if the intended recipient is ready to hear you.

Though I know I will always play a significant role and have to take responsibility for the words I put to writing, I believe emailing about an emotionally charged topic has some rather profound (and potentially perilous) limitations. Here’s why:


One: Without question, it takes considerably skill to choose words that express the message we wish to communicate without being mixed up with our feelings. Thus, even when we believe in our hearts we are being “objective” it’s rare that actually happens.


Two: As much as we attach our own emotions (or attempt to do the opposite) to the words we write there is no way to guess at the reader’s state of mind as they read our email. They might be in a receptive state or not. They may find our words emotionally charged or not—there’s just no way to know.


Three: Writing to anyone about a difficult topic in an email assumes the reader wants to or is ready to read all about it. That may not be the case, and the reader may see the message as coming from “out of the blue.”



Four: No one likes being told what to do. Thus, even the barest hint of a suggestion or criticism, may come across as a demand if the message sent is interpreted too literally.


Five: We all attach our own meaning to the words and ideas we use to express ourselves because we all have a unique human experience. Thus, even carefully written phrases may not be enough to adequately express an idea in a manner which a reader can relate to.


Six: The spoken word comes in a wide range of tones which can all impact meaning. Writing doesn’t come with the same built-in tools. For example, it is difficult to express sarcasm, teasing, anger, hurt, etc. when writing.


Eyebrows express a lot of different emotions.

We read a lot into a person from their expressions and gestures. Email could sure use a good set of eyebrows.

Seven: Email can’t catch our unconscious gestures or body language. During face-to-face conversation, we unconsciously roll our eyes, smile, frown, cross our arms, etc. It’s those unconscious signals we give that help a listener understand true meaning and intent. Emoticons or symbols like :) fail us as they are a conscious effort to manipulate emotion rather than unconscious expression.


Eight: By its nature an email is a one-sided conversation. Thus, the longer it is the more it can come across as a long string of words approaching on a lecture. Unless you are studying a topic you’re passionate about, few people ever what to hear a lecture.


Nine: It is easy to make assumptions about the reader when writing email. This occurs because we can only picture the reader in our head as we go to write. To contrast written and spoken communication consider this: During a face-to-face conversation, a listener can ask for clarification, argue, cut us off, or walk away. The reader we picture in our heads can do no such thing. He or she must listen to us drone on so we are left with a false impression our words carry greater weight than they actually do.


Ten: One might assume that carefully crafted emails are somehow more honest. Yet a written message is only as honest as it is understandable. Unfortunately, the words we choose may be less clear than we intend, or more easily misinterpreted than they would in a face-to-face conversation, where any thought that confuses can be instantly cleared up.


6 Steps To Consider If You’re Still Planning To Email


Are you still planning to take on a tough issue with a carefully crafted email? Before you do, consider this:


(1) Don’t. Don’t send it! Skip the email, screw up your courage and meet the person face-to-face.


(2) Really, don’t send an email. I wasn’t kidding. Don’t send it. It’s bound to be misinterpreted and used against you.


(3) Self edit. If you must send an email, then take the following steps: (a) Write your entire message out in vivid and gory detail describing how angry and frustrated you are and then sleep on it. (b) In the morning find the one single sentence or paragraph that is most important to you. (c) Now, discard everything else and rewrite this sentence or paragraph until you are sure your message is crystal clear. (d) Have a close friend review it and give you their impression. (e) If their impression is accurate and they still can’t convince you otherwise, then stop, take and breath and consider what would happen if you don’t send it before hitting that send button. Remember, it’s still not too late to change your mind (see item 1).


(4) Ask before assuming anything. Instead of assuming you know what the reader is currently thinking or believes, ask first. In fact, the more emotionally charged you are about a particular issue, the more questions you should ask beforehand. Now, for the hard part: Wait to get the answers before saying more! If you ask beforehand, you may just clear up the need to get all huffy in the first place.


(5) K.I.S.S. To the extent possible use the K.I.S.S. approach, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. Remember, the more you elaborate about what frustrates or angers you or why you’re concerned and so on, the more you may stray off point. This just leaves more of you exposed for misinterpretation, or in a worst-case scenario exposed to a full on assault. This is why you may be best served to skip the whole exercise to begin with (again, see item 1).


I wish my email came with better built in filters.

Don’t you wish windows came with a warning not to send that email? I sure do.

(6) Get permission up front. Consider asking the person involved whether or not they are open to discussing a particular issue before smacking them over the head with it. Do not assume they are. If they are open, then ask what medium would be best for them. In other words, would they prefer to sit down and talk, use the phone, email, etc. If they’re not open then see item 1. And if they are open, see item 1!


Good Luck With That


I hope you have better luck than I do with email. Granted, a lot of important information is transferred via email everyday so it must have its uses. Just don’t do what I did and assume the medium is an effective form of communication for everything you wish to say.

Know somebody that really needs to hear this? Then why not share it by using the buttons below?

Comments are closed.


Favorite Pages