E-mail Laws

E-mail is a lousy medium for conflict resolution

In general, people that are trying to resolve conflicts via e-mail are doing so because they either (a) lack the skills to resolve it in person or (b) are being lazy. E-mail is a great medium for when you need to clarify and explicitly communicate your thoughts. Unfortunately when you do that you are digging yourself into the position you are taking which makes you less rather than more open to discussing different opinions. So for any situations where you are trying to resolve a conflict resolution you should sit down and talk with people in person or over the phone – e-mail is a bad medium for that sort of thing.

E-mail is a bad medium for arguing your point

E-mail is medium for stating strong opinions without having to have the skills to argue them in person – or most of the time rationally. This is great is you are passive aggressive or bad at arguing your point since you can state your position clearly and explicitly without having to geting into any nasty conflict with another person. Unfortunately, when opinions are stated in e-mail all emotional context is removed from the communication and people of another opinion or mindset are far more likely to take things harshly or with offense. So normally what I do in these situations is ignore the issues in e-mail and schedule a meeting to bring them up in person with the people involved. In a meeting people are required to address both the people and the points and the arguees tend to be far less aggressive in that context and yield more often than not.

Do not use your Inbox to manage your tasks

The Inbox Task Management method is a lousy way to manage your list of tasks. This is a pretty common scenario and goes something like this: You have a task that you need to take that is tied to an e-mail that is in your Inbox. The task has an implied timeline to it as people expect that e-mail will be responded to in some specific timeline. This timeline varies wildly from e-mailer to e-mailer and can be from ten minutes to ten days. Most of the time the expected response timeline is completely undefined and you and the person that e-mailed you have totally different ideas about what is the timeline for responding to things. As more e-mail comes in and inevitably some of the tasks fall through the cracks and don’t get done. This leads us inexorably to the conclusion that your Inbox is a lousy way to manage tasks.

To address this I would recommend (i) checking your e-mail twice a day and (ii) either immediately responding to an item and deleting it or taking the item into a separate task queue and deleting it. In all scenarios you should aim to clean out your e-mail inbox and keep it at zero items when you finish checking your e-mail. It’s crazy but I can guarantee it will work for you.

Sarcasm in e-mail makes you sound like an asshole

E-mail has no emotional context so sarcastic comments don’t come across as satire they come across harsh.

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