About fifteen years ago, I walked into the office early one morning and grabbed the stack of papers on the central printer. The staff from the evening shift often printed anything of importance for us to review in the morning.
An email among the stack of papers stopped me in my tracks.
The message printed on the page was an email from my manager to her manager…about me. The message was a list of concerns that my manager had about my performance since I had arrived at the new location a few months prior.
Not only was I completely shocked that someone would be so careless to write such a note and then leave it in the printer, but I was blind-sighted by the content since my manager had given me nothing but glowing praise since starting the new role.
It was one of the few times in my professional life that I can remember feeling utterly stunned.
When it became apparent that I had seen the email, it forced a very uncomfortable dialogue for both of us. We eventually worked though it, settled on where both parties had made mistakes in the lead-up to the incident, and even stayed friends after one of us moved on from the company.
But it was painful. For a long while.
I wish that my story was unique, but anytime I share it, I hear a combination of responses that often sound like these:
- “This one person in our office says horrible things over email that he/she would never say to me in person.”
- “I clearly wasn’t supposed to see this email about me, but someone copied me on it accidentally. How can I possibly un-see it?”
- “My colleague is nice to me in person but trashes me on email all the time.”
- “People are so rude online.”
So, it turns out that people read email. Actual, real people.
Shocking at this may be, perhaps some explanation is in order:
When we (and I do mean “we” as in all of us) send things online that we would never say in person, it’s because we’ve momentarily forgotten that the icons and pixels in the To: and Cc: boxes on our screen represent real people.
People that have feelings about their contributions. People that have concerns about how they are perceived in the workplace. People who are sometimes insecure about their actions. People who often question themselves.
You know…all of us.
It seems that it’s pretty easy in the moment to forget that those icons and pixels actually represent a human being on the other end.
To reduce the chance of forgetting that people are involved in online communication, here are three tests I often use before hitting SEND:
- The mom test: Would I want my mother to read what I am about to send?
- The front page test: Would I still send this if I knew it would end up on the front page tomorrow morning?
- The unintended recipient test: Am I prepared for the person I’m writing about in this message to read it themselves?
If the answer is no to any of the above, stop and think twice.
Cause, it turns out that people read email.
[reminder]How do you remind yourself of the human being on the other end?[/reminder]