This week (already) I’ve responded to e-mail messages that had little jabs. I was tempted to write, “I’m responding as professionally as I can.” Those emails made me contemplate the relationship of professionalism and civility. I concluded Civility = Professionalism but you are certainly free to disagree.
More embellishments on and notes from ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’ by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe published April 2007.
Duplicity (deceitfulness, being twofold or double, belying true intentions by deceptive words) Examples: Knowledge becomes power so you distribute information selectively. Acting like a double agent.
Anger Would you say it in person? If not, don’t ‘send’. Flaming is sending messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting. Wikipedia says “Sometimes, flamers are attempting to assert authority, or establish a position of superiority. Other times, the flamer is simply a closed-minded or biased individual whose conviction that his is the only valid opinion leads him to personally attack any dissenters." This is the ugly side of email.
Sarcasm rarely works in emails. It takes an ability to perceive nonverbal signals so probably is understood only by those who know you very well. Sarcasm can be cutting and condescending; some people will understand your message as just that.
Loaded phrases put particular emphasis on your power over someone and sound impatient, patronizing and sarcastic.
I can’t imagine why…
You’ll have to…
Is it too much to ask…
Why in the world…
It seems odd that…
Just curious, but…
Please explain to me…
Rhetorical questions can be debilitating.
What were you thinking?
Did you really say that?
What ever gave you that idea?
The real question
Why do I need to assert my dominance? If you wouldn’t make the comment to another in person, don’t put it in an email.
“Let me give you two pieces of advice. One is practical. And one is more theoretical. Never talk when you can nod. And never write when you can talk. My only addendum is never put it in an email. The other piece of advice I would give is that I don't think you can teach ethics. You can teach it by behavior. By the time someone's in business school, if they're not going to get it, it's just a risk-reward analysis to them. The one way we're going to bring people back into the system is shame. The shame of being smeared across the headlines will work. Shame. And when you hire someone, buy them a copy of "Bonfire of the Vanities*." It makes the point that nobody is beyond reproach. Everybody can be subjected to that. That's incredibly important.”
–Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York (1959 - )
Conclusion in a speech on federalism, corporate governance and Wall Street settlements
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, 1990 first printing is 659 pages.
(I’ve read Wolfe since JlMC 464, Journalism and Literature. Let me know if you want to read my copy.)