It’s quick, easy and, to be honest, lets you escape dreary small-talk and avoid some awkward real-life conversations. So you can’t be blamed for wanting to use ‘hit send’ as your main form of communication. But with the efficiency of our beloved e-mail comes some serious drawbacks. We seem to have forgotten the fact that everything we send can be re-read (over and over again), forwarded, printed out and basically shown to anyone, at any time. E-mails are far from fleeting and if you say the wrong thing, especially at the wrong time, it can haunt you for a good long while. These are the five times you should step away from the keyboard—pronto.
1. ‘You’re Such a Jerk!’
Typing an e-mail with your fists, in a fit of rage is never a good idea. Anger increases our stress hormones, which decrease our ability to communicate well. Remember when we’d resolve arguments face-to-face? They actually got resolved in a quick and calm manner (99 percent of the time). When you are looking someone in the eye, you’re less likely to throw as many verbal punches. Enter the world of e-mail and we get a bit of digital courage, writing harmful things we often wouldn’t say out loud. Resist the urge to vent your frustration with a quick-fire e-mail, because it’s far harder to resolve a conflict once you’ve hit ‘send’. You can’t take back a heated rant (yes, it’ll be in cyberspace forever) and chances are it’ll just fire up your recipient and escalate the feud. Before you know it, the actual reason you’re fighting will get lost in the crossfire and a resolution will just drift further and further away. If you can’t meet face-to-face, pick up your phone and tell them why you’re feeling upset. They’re much more likely to respond with empathy to your actual voice.
2. ‘You’re the Dirtiest Housemate Ever’
Just as feuding via e-mail is a big no-no, so is criticising someone. We get a false sense of bravado behind the screen and say things we’d never have the courage to say in person. It’s always a daunting task to tell someone they’re doing something wrong, but there are some tactful ways to do it, and e-mail just isn’t ever going to be one of them.
For starters, your recipient can read what you wrote over and over again, and continue to feel hurt or even ashamed by it. They’ll pull every sentence apart and read into every little word and exclamation mark (we’ve all done it, and it’s exhausting). Chances are, they’ll also read it in a different tone to how it was meant and see it as a personal attack. Being honest is a very important part of any relationship so, by all means, go forth and speak the truth—to their face. Then you can ensure the other person hears your critique in the most positive way. If you speak in a polite and friendly way, without expressing any anger and hostility, they’re less likely to jump to the defence. It also gives them a chance to raise any other issues they may want to address with you. Because nobody’s perfect...
3. ‘I Can’t Make It Tonight’
If you have to cancel dinner plans, a date or any other commitment, making a call is a simple act of courtesy that shows you genuinely care about and have respect for the relationship. E-mailing them a wordy reason for why you need to cancel can also come across as a cop-out and a lie. Pick up the phone.
4. ‘I’m Sorry’
As we previously mentioned, nobody’s perfect, and you’re bound to stuff up plenty. But don’t dig yourself a deeper hole by e-mailing an apology. It’s the cowardly option. No one enjoys the awkwardness of a hard conversation, but it’s always best to face up to your mistakes. Saying sorry in person shows sincerity and humility that an e-apology seriously lacks. If you’re after forgiveness, you’re far more likely to get it face-to-face than in writing.
5. ‘I Really Need an Answer Urgently’
Nothing’s more efficient than simply picking up the phone if you need something right this minute. It’s far harder for someone to ignore a ringing phone than an e-mail, which arrives in an inbox among dozens (or even hundreds) of other unread messages. Even if yours is read, it can easily be forgotten or put aside for later. On the phone, it’s also much harder for someone to avoid a question (no matter how tough) and you’ll get an immediate response even if it’s not necessarily the one you were hoping for.