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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

The Wisdom of Dilbert: If It Offends, Don’t Send

Two workers in a recent Dilbert comic strip had an explosive conversation:

Person A calmly: "I forwarded your email to Ted."

Person B angrily: "I said bad things about Ted! That was a private email to you."

Person A confidently: "He needed to know."

Person B furiously: "HE DID NOT NEED TO KNOW."

(Scott Adams, Metrowest Daily News, 8/15/20)

Today everyone is stressed and short-tempered. As a result, it is easier than usual to say things or to fire off emails that cause trouble. An acquaintance recently emailed a town official about a problem in the town. He found to his dismay that the official felt personally attacked by the email. Apparently, the official had proposed a plan to address the problem, but the town had not funded the plan. The recipient was so upset he immediately drove to the email sender’s house! Fortunately, the two had an amicable discussion, and the situation was defused. But, the situation could have been avoided.

Before hitting the email send button, consider:

What are your motives? Is it to inform; to show how smart you are; or to embarrass the receiver? To inform is in most cases a legitimate motive. The other two motives will offend the receiver.

Do you have all the facts? What is the context? What other conditions or factors may impact your message? My acquaintance had not researched the source of the problem or past attempts to remedy it.

Have you identified the right recipient? If not, you are wasting time and creating new problems.

Have you crafted the right message? My acquaintance did not clearly state what he wanted, and of course the email did not have the desired effect.

Does your message add value? Is the content useful or helpful? Is it constructive, not destructive? This email message was not helpful. In fact, it was destructive.

Have you anticipated how your respondent will feel? How would you feel if you had received the same message? Had my acquaintance re-read his email, he would have realized that the message was hurtful and the tone tactless and critical.

Will your email escalate a problem rather than resolving it? The email did not fix the problem. Moreover, the official felt under attack and was so angry he physically confronted the sender.

Language is inadequate. When you communicate, consider whether others might misinterpret your words. As it is too easy to fire off emails in anger, it is best to re-read and rethink each message before hitting the send button. When in doubt, wait; ask a friend’s advice; or even call the recipient, and listen carefully. Realize that your recipients may forward your messages without your consent, compounding the problem.

Actionable Business Insights

Copyright © 9/20 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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