Email: The New Road Rage

It’s sleek. It’s fast. It’s powerful, yet whisper quiet. All the controls are at your fingertips.

Like the engineers designed it just for you.

No, you’re not behind the wheel; you’re in front of your keyboard. But your manners are no better than those of a motorist stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

At rush hour.

On Christmas Eve.

In Los Angeles.

Screened by their inboxes, emailers spew, rant, attack, bluster, harangue and pontificate, transforming email into the new road-rage. As a consultant, I get to see a broad swath of communications from people in all industries and states of emotional dishabille. Here are some authentic samples from my Outlook, with only a small change here and there to protect the guilty:

Why is it that every time we turn around we have to give someone in this dept more money?? 

It is not acceptable that this is the first time I am hearing of this!!! 

This is the third or 4th time I’ve gotten this email. Do we have a problem? What gives??? 

We can’t be looped in on something of this magnitude after the fact with no official heads up or discussion!! 

I won’t be bullied into accepting everything on your terms and having no guarantees. It is beyond unprofessional!

So glad you brought that up. Speaking of unprofessional, how would you classify screaming like an outraged toddler? When properly socialized adults confront life’s daily frustrations (e.g., a bounced check, a long line at the DMV, no more Cheerios left in the box), they curse under their breaths, tap their toes, or put a strained smile on their faces. In other words, they behave.

Email, however, changes even polished business people into passive-aggressive tantrum- throwers. All of the messages above were written by otherwise civilized executives who wouldn’t consider raising their voices in a meeting. Too gutless, evidently, to express negative emotions in person, they hit “send” with a flourish of righteous indignation.

Here’s a request from all of us battered and bruised on the receiving end of such venom: Everyone banging out vitriolic and cowardly e-pistles needs to man- (or woman-) up. Walk down the hall. Or pick up the phone. Say, “I am really frustrated with what you just did.” If you can’t bring yourself to do that—by voice or in person—then you have no business doing it with pixels.

And if you’re every bit as nasty in the flesh as you are in email—actually venting like that out loud—well, I just don’t know what to say.


Safety Tip: If you are in high dudgeon, do not write or send email. No matter what you think, your emptional state will come across.

Here are a few other choice email crimes. First, the “not”-ers. Those who say what they aren’t going to do in the midst of doing it.

I am not trying to nickel and dime you about taking Bob out to lunch. 

This is not meant as finger pointing.

Lemme ask you something. When someone comes up to you and says, “Now don’t take this as criticism,” what’s your reaction? That’s right. Up with your dukes.

Then there are the question barragers:

Are we deploying new programs or reports? What are we doing in the background? Do we have protocol for sending new information? Who’s point to help Ramon tonight?

Receiving this email as you sit quietly at your desk is like being woken at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning by a seven-year-old saying, “When can I open my presents? Now? How about now? Ready now?”

The bomb-droppers are choice breed, requesting the impossible with a flick of the mouse:

Please digest the attached report in advance of our 5 p.m. call. [sent at 4:24 p.m.] 

Are we on track for this? Please summarize our strategy. (“Apple Launches New iPad”— article link enclosed.)

But my favorite are the enraged with last-minute regrets:

Hi Richard, 

I just wanted to let you know that there is absolutely no way I can do the estimate under these conditions. If the situation continues, I will escalate the matter to management. 

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and I will speak with you soon!

Many commentators have noted that the current tone of American culture is like an object lesson in the need for anger management—from screaming pundits to threats of Koran-burning to reality TV Petri dishes in which people are pitted against each other to ratchet up ratings. Indulging in anger is becoming like eating potato chips: the more the more.  Well, I say, let’s all take a big step back toward civility:  

Simmer down.

And step away from the keyboard.


Leave a Reply

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required.