Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Power (and pain) of Email

Email. One of the greatest inventions of all time? Or the end of communication as we once knew it?

I could argue points either way.

For the most part, I'm a fan of email. On a business level, I can accomplish a great deal quite efficiently by responding more expediently to people by getting right to the point, especially when some just have a quick question. I admit that sometimes I don't call someone back right away because I know I have to have more time to spend to talk to that person, where with an email, I just type and click "send."

I've been reminded lately that email can have a very dark side: and that is in it's perceived anonymity. People can hide behind their email address, and when facing a computer screen rather than a human face or even a real voice on the other end of the phone, can say some of the most unkind things imaginable. It's like they forget a real human being with feelings is sitting on the other side, reading their cruel remarks.

As a program director, I've take a number of complaints from listeners over the years for the many stations I've worked. I've seen the complaints get uglier as the years go by an use of email has increased. People have gotten more comfortable, and more courageous behind this email mask. In the early to mid 90's when people were just starting to use email more regularly, I managed a radio station that had a high profile morning man, and he'd often say things that raised the temperature of our listeners. I'd get phone calls and written typed letter complaints, and a few email complaints about something this guy said. As the years progressed, the verbiage changed from a polite "I was personally offended by this or that", to profanity laced personal attacks, some from the same person.

One of the air personalities on our sister station talked to me about some of the emails she gets. She said that she may get 5 "I love you on the air" emails, but one hurtful one negates all the positives. Christi Nichols is so good at what she does, and I can tell her all day how talented she is, but one dagger has her down for days. It is such a reminder how powerful hurtful words can be.

I've been filling in on the air for our recently departed morning show co-host on WQMX. Shannon Alexander resigned, of her own free will, and is now staying home full time with her kids. Over a several day period I have received several emails from people saying they really miss Shannon but they were happy for her and they thought I was doing a good job filling some big shoes. Many cited many fun bits they had heard Scott Wynn and I do on the air. I was feeling good after reading the nice ones. And then...another came in.

This guy said the new girl "sucked". That I had absolutely no personality, that my voice was "annoying" and that we should get the old girl back. It was a brutal very personal attack that really hurt my feelings. I responded as politely as I could and then, a day later, I got an interesting reply back from him. He seemed embarrassed about his first email, and he said he was sorry he was so hard on me. He just really liked the other girl and didn't know the story. He said he should learn to keep his "big trap shut" and said he'd give me another chance. To his credit, he apologized and that meant a lot to me. But it made me realize that like so many others, it just didn't dawn on him that there really was a real person with real feelings on the other side, reading these mean-spirited words.

There's been a lot written about email, but I thought I'd add to that with my own little list of Do's and Dont's after being a victim of its wrath:

Do use spell check

Do use punctuation

Do double-check who you are sending to (some email programs use the auto fill-in feature and complete the wrong email address for you)

Don't send an email when you are angry. It's helpful to write a response to get your frustrations out, but save it, and read it later when you cool off. You may find writing it was all you needed and you may hit delete. Or you may edit it and send it with a softer tone. In the end, an angry email makes you come off like an idiot.

Don't type in all caps. It is perceived as screaming and...well... you come off like an idiot.

Don't type in all lower case. It is perceived as careless and it seems as though you must have no grammatical skills and yes, in fact, you come off like an idiot

Don't accidentally hit Reply All instead of Reply. That can really make you come off like an idiot if the wrong people read a reply not intended for them

And if you have any complaints about the contents in this blog...

Don't send me a mean email. I can't take it anymore!

Although polite comments are welcome :-)