• Sat, May 8 2010

The Beauty of the Unsent Email

Recently, I called a friend in crisis. I was at great odds with a business associate, and was trying to figure out the best way to tell her via email exactly, point by point, what I though about her. I wanted my friend to read over my email and assure me that I had stated my case clearly (i.e., “I hope this is not the way you typically do business,” “You are rude, difficult and thoughtless”).

Well, my friend read the email, and called me back posthaste. “I think,” she said, “that this is the email you don’t send.”

I was floored. I had expected a little bit more of a “you go, girl” rallying cry. But I had called this particular friend because she is more experienced and more wise in business matters than I am, and so I pondered her advice, wrote another email that was short, to the point, and devoid of personal accusations, and hit send. To this day, the original email sits safely in my drafts box, unsent.

In hindsight, of course, my friend saved my ass. Emails like the one I wrote, while satisfying and frankly, completely true, unbiased and poignant, have no place in business interactions. Because when you think about it, there are only a few ways that such a note would have been received. 1) With matching anger, thereby igniting an email fight, which inevitably leaves both parties (or at least me) feeling like a 15-year-old. 2) Outright dismissal, which honestly is the way an email like the one I had prepared should be received since I sounded like a second-semester college freshman who had just learned how to make a point. If my receivee were an honest businesswoman (she wasn’t, but whatever), she would have seen that I was unloading on her and simply deleted it. Or, 3) Uproarious laughter, followed by mass forwarding. Also not completely out of line.

For me, the email would have also meant immediate post-send regret. I would have become totally emotionally wrapped up in the exchange. You know how that goes –you hit send, and your stomach immediately forms a slip knot that stays in place until you see a response in your inbox, at which point the knot tightens its grip on your innards. And whatever that response says, it’s wrong.

And, it’s very likely that I eventually would have felt like the asshole that I was being. Once the rage wears off, you’re only left to cringe at your self-righteousness and shockingly inappropriate behavior.

But really, the bottom line is that emails like that are simply not professional. No matter how wronged I felt, sending that diatribe would have been behavior not befitting a classy lady such as myself.

Of course, we all know how good it feels to unload via the keyboard, to just let fly with all the obscenities and insults and vulgarities and self-righteous posturing that we have inside. So go ahead, get it off your chest. By then not sending it, you have proof positive that you took the high road. But a word to the wise – don’t type in the would-be recipients email address. You really, really don’t want to hit send by mistake.

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