We have all learned lessons through uncomfortable situations. In our digital world, email is likely the ‘unintentional’ culprit of many of these situations. Either through it’s inability to convey the full intent behind what we are trying to say, or the ease with which the ‘send’ button can be hit without taking the proper time to mull something over.
From a strange interaction with someone years ago, I came to the realization that emails without question marks don’t need to be answered. Just because we receive an email doesn’t mean we have to respond. In this situation, it was someone ranting… and while the situation was an odd one… I eventually clued in to the fact that it was a monologue in search of an audience. Any response would fuel the monologue… and it’s not a monologue that I needed.
A recent interaction where the communication attempt was poor on my part, reiterated the importance of understanding how an outcome relates to what you are communicating. In other words, asking myself intentionally, “What is my desired outcome?” The recipient clued me in that I had written an email with no true recognition of what I wanted to get out of it… or what I was offering. The intent behind it was honest, but the email failed in that it was open to interpretation. It should likely never have been an email in the first place(!), but in what I sent… there were no question marks. There was no interaction. It was me sending an email that was functionally useless because I didn’t think about the desired outcome. The unfortunate thing is that when you do that, you burden the recipient with something they really don’t need, want, or really know what to do with.
So it was a fail on my part.
- Was it intended to make me feel better? Maybe? I don’t think so… but it did result in a more complex situation that didn’t feel good. So, actually feeling worse. And, it also spread the virus of not feeling good to someone else who certainly didn’t invite that in.
- Was it intended to state something? Perhaps. That might be the only real reason to send an email without a question? Just sending an email that states something? Seems kind of weird though in this context.
- Was it a bad attempt at working through something? That might be closer. It was about something quite complex to me… where I was having trouble processing it and didn’t even know where to start with spoken words. But… then it’s just the wrong choice. That’s what phone calls are for.
None of this changes the ‘reason’ behind the email, but it did mean that I likely lost all ability to receive validation of the concern and moving to the most important follow-up steps of clarification, and seeing what the shared outcome would be. When I spoke with the person after, I realized that I had created a wall that would likely not come down easily. So, not only do I have the complexity that I was seeking to address, I added the feeling of messing up. Without a pathway for closure. The unfortunate part is that there was a good intent, one founded in truly having wanted to build value.
Is there a silver lining? Well… getting a solid reminder about good communication. And, it’s certainly led to me trying to understand the situation that led up to it. It’s provided some good insights… and is a moment to grow on…
Thanks for reading. Hiding within the personal therapy are the two take-home messages of: “interaction should have question marks” and the importance of asking “what is the desired outcome?” The later is a great question for almost everything we plan and do, at all levels.
About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/