Your heart is pounding.
Your thoughts are racing.
You’re in a total panic.
You have Electronic Communication Regret, commonly known as ECR – a condition occurring in thousands of people every day who hit SEND without really thinking things through.
Although the condition isn’t fatal, it can have debilitating, long-lasting, life-altering side effects, including, but not limited to:
Dry mouth, humiliation, excessive perspiration, hair loss, shame, sleep deprivation, mortification, trouble breathing, nail biting, loss of work and personal relationships, stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, promotion cancellation, career decline, and in not-so-rare instances, unemployment.
If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t bother seeing your doctor because there’s no cure for ECR other than preventing it in the first place.
Let’s face it, once you hit send, there’s no going back. You’ve communicated — whether you like it or not. You can try recalling a message, but receiving an email recall message makes it 157.3 times more likely the recipient will open it.
To avoid getting ECR and suffering its long-term effects, ask yourself these six questions before you hit SEND on an email or text message:
1. Am I angry, upset, or otherwise experiencing “impaired judgement”?
If you’ve just had an argument with a know-it-all coworker, or just got home from having a few drinks to ease the pain of being passed over for promotion, don’t send any texts or emails to anyone! If you need to vent, go ahead and spill your guts in an email, AFTER you’ve ensured you’ve left the “to” field blank. Then save the draft email, give yourself 24 hours to gain perspective, and then read what you wrote. If you’re clear-headed and still think the email sounds great, you’re a grown up, go ahead and send it.
2. Is it possible my tone could be misinterpreted?
A simple sentence such as, “Send me the information by Friday,” can come across as a request, demand, or threat, depending on how the reader interprets the message. Adding “please”, “thank you” or other courteous language can help soften a direct message such as this. If you can’t find the words to say what you need to say politely and professionally, rewrite your message, or ask yourself question #3 below.
3. Is there a better way to communicate my message?
Messages that could trigger conflict, misunderstanding, confusion, or panic in the recipient are best delivered by phone or in person.
Think about how you’d feel receiving this simple email message from your boss late on a Friday afternoon,
“Need to see you in my office first thing on Monday.”
Are you getting fired, getting a promotion, or does your boss just like spending time with you? Who knows? But I’ll bet you’d spend your weekend wondering and probably worrying.
If your boss had left a voicemail, at least you might have gotten some hint from his or her tone. If your boss had stopped by your office to ask you to meet on Monday, at least you could have asked, “What’s up?”
4. Is it okay if others see your message?
Just because you send a message to one person, doesn’t mean that person can’t forward your message to others, or blind copy others on his or her reply. If you send an email, you should always assume that it could become public knowledge. Therefore, if you don’t want anyone else to see what you’ve said, don’t put it in writing.
5. If you’re BCC’ing someone, what’s your motive?
I hate the BCC feature because I think it’s used for evil more than it’s used for good. That being said, one of my clients asks his employees to blind copy him on all emails responding to customer complaints. His goal is to track complaint trends so he can address problem systems, processes, or policies. He asks employees to use the BCC feature instead of the CC feature because he wants to be sure his employees are the service heroes and that they maintain ownership of customer communication.
In the above scenario, I think the use of BCC is appropriate. However, in most instances, peoples’ rationale for using BCC is more cowardly, whether they want to admit it or not. For example, when an employee BCC’s a supervisor as a way to get a coworker in trouble, or to avoid taking responsibility for problem solving–hoping the supervisor will read the email and take care of the problem. If you feel a coworker’s supervisor needs to be aware of a situation, the professional thing to do is to let the coworker know first. You might say, “If we can’t resolve this, I’ll need to send a note to Bob to let him know about the problem.” Then, if your coworker doesn’t respond appropriately, he or she has been forewarned that you’ll take further action.
6. Would I have the guts to say this face-to-face?
Many people find uncharacteristic “bravery” when hiding behind a computer or phone screen. It’s easier to be rude or aggressive when you don’t have to look at the face of the person you’re berating. If wouldn’t have the guts to deliver your message face-to-face, don’t send it electronically either.
I hope this post helps you avoid ever experiencing all the negative side effects of ECR.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to communicate your thoughts, ideas, and feelings effectively, check out my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done” and my 3-minute-a-day, 30-day video program, “Communication Skills for Career Success.”