Psychiatrist Administrator IV: Email etiquette

November 22nd, 2010 by gelenberg Leave a reply »

We all communicate. Even if you are not thinking about going into administration, you probably use email.

With apologies to Ecclesiastes, there is a time for all things—and vehicles of communication. Email is wonderful. It’s easy and instant. Email is ideal for brief communications of facts (there’s a meeting at noon in the multi-purpose room) or congratulations.

Brevity is essential for email. Long wordy emails turn readers off and are frequently ignored. I wonder if people who write them aren’t wasting valuable time, energy, and talent that could be put to more productive use. If you find yourself getting beyond a couple of hundred words, consider another vehicle for communicating.

And the affect in an email should be positive (e.g., congratulations) or neutral (e.g., a meeting change). Email is really bad for complaints or criticisms. Writers tend to hit “send” when they’re upset, without sufficient time to reflect on impact and possible consequences. And emails can reverberate—being forwarded to people far and wide. Unlike paper, which can be destroyed, most documents on computers can be recovered from your hard drive long after you think you have deleted them. They are anything but confidential or private.

Words and subjects likely to stir up negative feelings are best delivered (at least initially) in person—where there is opportunity to read facial and body language, choose nuanced tones, and modify ideas and words in process. If an agreement is achieved, written communication can memorialize details—between the parties. Such a process is much less likely to become inflamed and to spread far beyond the originally intended participants. No one needs to make enemies, and toxic emails are deadly weapons.

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