First I must apologize for the lack of posts the past few days. Apparently when it rains in Tucson, the wi-fi goes out. I have now been forced to do my drafting in the business office so I hope you all appreciate it.
Today I’d like to address the issue of mis-directed emails and other electronic messages. Sometimes I really wish we could go back to the days before all of this madness started. I’m sick of emails, texts and “smart” phones, which sometimes aren’t very smart at all. Not only are we expected to be in constant contact with the rest of the world, we are becoming less thoughtful in what we communicate and how.
You never heard of anyone accidentally sending a really fucked up letter to another person, right? It’s just not that often that one sits down, writes a letter in anger or haste and then whoops – they walk it down the driveway and into the mailbox it goes!
In other words, lack of electronic communication isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because in the past, things like this didn’t happen:
I have been talking to a company here in Portland for several months about coming to work for them. There has been a lot of back and forth and the process is highly puzzling and drawn-out, to say the least. After being told they wanted me to come in for another meeting a few weeks ago, there was no follow-up to set up the meeting. I’d call or email and hear nothing, or “we are still working on things on our end” but it was all quite odd.
The other day I was on a run/hobble/superpowerwalk in Tucson and I thought I’d try again. I sent the recruiter an email which simply read “Good morning! Are you still planning to bring me in for a meeting?” Roughly 2 minutes later, I received the following:
Yep. That actually happened. I stopped dead in my tracks (I was tired anyway) and just stared at the message. This poor guy had meant to forward my message to the person making the hiring decision, but instead he replied to me and cc’d her. I was astounded and I’ll be honest with you, a little hurt. A lot hurt, actually. I have put some very serious time and effort into selling myself to this company, not to mention buying a very expensive dress and shoes for the interview that was supposed to be imminent.
OK, who am I kidding – we know I wanted the dress and shoes anyway. But my point is still valid.
I came back to the hotel (the lovely and romantic Arizona Inn, by the way) and informed my husband how I planned to respond. At that point we had a small disagreement, as he mistook my words as seeking advice, rather than delivering information. When he gently advised me why such a response may not be the best idea, I quickly disabused him of the notion, quaint though it was, that I was asking his opinion on the matter.
However, I do appreciate my husband’s circumspect nature. His words of admonishment rang fresh in my ears long after he fled the room. I had “that look” going and he knew it was best he scurry along lest I focus my annoyance in his general direction. So when I sat down to write my response, I injected it with a measured quality of scolding and funny. Here is what I said (without the photos, though I wish I had thought to include them):
Ah, the joys of the accidental cc. I have a couple of thoughts for you guys. I am on vacation in Tucson and looking forward to attending the Duck game with my husband and all his kids on Saturday. The weather is beautiful, the hotel is lovely and your email caught me at a time when I’m feeling happy, upbeat and optimistic.
That may explain why I had the reaction I did to it, which was bemusement. Of course I was hurt at the tone and the complete disregard of who I am as a person and an applicant who has expressed a continuous and enthusiastic desire to work at your company, but those negative feelings almost immediately gave way to an actual laugh-out-loud moment, or LOL as the kids say these days.
If this is the attitude you have towards your people before they even get in the door, I can guess that this is a large part of why your company is suffering from extremely low morale and various employee relations problems. I’m not making this commentary solely out of reaction to your email, but also my own conversations with people at the company and your online ratings.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you there are problems.
I think a lot of people would have immediately written you back and said something like: ‘I am no longer interested in working for you, so please employ Option B and cut me loose. I am not a pot of soup, I am a human being.’
Me? I am intrigued. Your company needs me.
Rather than filling this position (which I think you have no intention of hiring me for), I should be a consultant to your organization. When is the last time you did an employee survey? What were the results? Did you implement changes to address the issues? Do your employees have a valid sounding board? What is your turnover rate? How many times have you been sued or reported to government agencies for employment practices in the past year or two?
While the chances of you taking me up on this offer are roughly equal to the Blazers taking home the NBA Championship this year, I just had to put it out there. I think I could help you guys. If not, be well and thank you for your time. And watch those cc’s – those can be a real bummer.
Within moments my phone was ringing with apologies and explanations (the job may not be filled at all, as it turns out) and quite honestly, I think they appreciated my candor. Perhaps I will convince them I can be useful to their organization, or perhaps they are putting me on THAT LIST – you know the one. The “do not hire/let in the building” list. I’m not the only one on these lists, right?
I reached out to my readers and got a few more good stories for your enjoyment.
“Back when I used to work for “the man”, I had a boss who was, to put it politely – difficult….to put it more directly he was persistently challenging, unpredictable, mercurial, vulnerable to flattery, overly impressed with his own importance, prone to flights of fancy – in short, he was very much like any boss anyone has ever worked for, only worse. Upon receiving one of his more ridiculous e-mails, during a period when he was being especially infuriating, I blasted off an angry commentary on his many short-comings to a co-worker.
Approximately a week later, under the guise of discussing a mundane business matter, he called me into his office. His set-up was ingenious, his methods nothing short of brilliant – he may have been dreadful in other ways, but as a tactician at laying the perfect trap, he was a master. He asked me several mundane questions about the matter at hand, gradually working his way around to where his opinion differed from mine. At that point he said something along the lines of – “perhaps we disagree because….” at which point he pulled my e-mail from his pocket and read directly from it all the vile, unpleasant things I had said about him. His face, by the time he finished, was apoplectically red, the veins were bulging in his neck. I feared for my life.
I was mortified, humiliated and embarrassed. Sweat poured profusely from every pore in my body. My face flashed crimson then a pale white as all the blood drained from it in anticipation of my imminent firing. He proceeded to explain to me, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he should do to me, how betrayed he felt, and how loathingly disloyal I was. I offered up a pitiful defense that I was writing emotionally in anger, but he had me in a stranglehold and he knew it. It was easily one of the most dreadful moments of my life.
Much to my complete and total surprise, I kept my job that day. Even to this day I wonder why he did not fire me. Our relationship, never good to begin with, was never the same but – to be fair – he never played that card again. In my haste and anger, I had hit the “reply all” button, and did not catch it.
My co-workers did, but he quickly swore them to secrecy lest they fear for their livelihoods. Everyone knew what had happened when I exited his office; no one would look me in the eye.
E-mail is easy, too easy….we can write and send things in anger or frustration that common sense or courtesy would prevent us from ever saying in person. Couple with that the insidious “reply all” and you have the makings of the perfect disaster – one I somehow managed to survive.”
Another story, this one from “Raylene:”
“GE and GE Healthcare was always big on the latest technology, so after they bought our fun startup company we started using the internal messaging system for just about anything other than actual work. Although I sat right next to my good pal’s cubicle, we frequently exchanged snarky stuff about co-workers, especially superiors. We had a new manager who came in loaded for bear and acting mighty important and, well, “bossy.” As an aside, he later became a very good boss and a very nice friend. But at this point in time he was really feeling his supervisory oats, so to speak.
One sunny morning, he could be heard chewing out a peer of ours, and I felt it smart to send my pal an instant message saying (not his real name)–“Harold is really being a total horse’s ass this morning, as usual.” My friend would have enjoyed that thought and replied along the same lines, but my smart-pants self did not send it to Teresa but sent it to Harold, the horse’s ass himself. The reply was a long line of question marks and exclamation points. Being of the LDS persuasion, this did not represent swear words, but an invite to discuss said message re a horse’s posterior and his resemblance thereto.
Amazingly, I did not get myself fired or even reprimanded, but instead was able to have an uncomfortable but extremely productive exchange about the way he (the new manager) was coming across to his team. That said, I still would not recommend insulting one’s boss as a wise tactic for opening a dialogue, but it worked for me, and it helped both of us realize some important truths about ourselves (like I am reckless and he can be a horse’s ass.)”
Melvin touched on the main point of this rant: email and texting is too easy. It’s easy because we don’t have to have a back and forth with someone as we would on the phone or even (God forbid!) in person. It’s easy because it’s fast and we don’t have to worry about a) finding a stamp and b) whether postal rates have gone up since we purchased said stamp. It’s easy because unlike a face-to-face conversation, most people don’t worry about tone and delivery style – they just write what they are feeling and often the result is a very terse-sounding or difficult to analyze message.
I have one friend who I love dearly, but if I had a dollar for every text message from her I have been hurt or offended by I would no longer need to seek fame and fortune via this blog. Here is a typical exchange between the two of us:
ME: “Hey, Sally! I’ve got a rack of lamb with your name on it! Do you and Bill want to join us for dinner Friday night? Hope all is well – how’s the job going?”
Sally: “Can’t. Busy.”
I mean, come ON! In true Robin fashion, I finally told her how her texts came across and she actually had no idea. For a while she warmed them up a bit, but eventually she went back to her old ways and I just had to accept that short and brusque is her texting style. And mine, apparently, is wordy and somewhat needy and pathetic.
It used to be that if you had something very important to discuss with someone, you did it in person. Later, it became more common to have such conversations over the phone. Today, nobody uses the phone anymore; it has become rare to actually place a call and someone told me the other day that it’s rude to leave a voice mail! Apparently you are supposed to text instead.
I have had entire arguments with people via text or email, from problem initiation to conclusion (“conclusion” invariably meaning “apology to Robin” because I am always right, which is why you are reading my advice column – you know what’s good for you and it’s me!).
I fear for our children, who are so buried in their smart phones, computers and online video games that they don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. We are raising a generation of young people who don’t understand the art of communication: the beautiful yet delicate dance in which each participant listens not only to the other’s words but also interprets their body language and facial expressions.
You know what? I can’t do this rant justice. Click on this video<a href="[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c&w=560&h=315]” title=”Louis CK”> and listen to how Louis CK describes the problem. It’s five minutes well spent, trust me. He does it better and I am desperate to head to the pool since it has been raining for three days and now the sun is out. Bottom line: let’s all start TALKING more and typing less.
Except the blog. The blog is a one-way advice delivery system that must be maintained in it’s current format. I hope you understand.
Rant over, DesCamp out. Out to the pool, that is!