This morning I was scrolling through my inbox, trying my darndest to slay the e-mail dragon. Answer the requests that have been sitting there for several days (or longer). I felt ... dismayed. What to say? I scrolled by them again. And that haunted me. I would not be clearing my inbox today.
I prefer to get back to people promptly and clear it out. It just doesn't always happen. As I searched my soul for why, the answer came to me. In an email! A report from The Harvard Daily Stat.
It turns out that we lie a lot - in email. "People lie more in emails than face to face," according to researchers Mattitiyahu Zimbler and Robert S. Feldman of the University of Massachusetts. It's common when the communicator is psychologically and physically distant from the person receiving the message.
They say everybody lies and I believe that's true. Follow along with my thought process about why we lie more in our business e-mail and whether e-mail etiquette allows it.
If you're the kind of person who doesn't want to lie, and you also hate to hurt people, you have a problem. A request comes in. You don't want to say yes. In fact, you must say no. But you don't want to lie.
In the end, lying is easier. And... it's so ... remote.
In e-mail you can craft a nice, easy, white lie. Code for "no." "I'm traveling non-stop this month." "I will be offsite all week." "We're going to be tied up for three months on this project." You hope that people will just...get the hint. Go away. Forget.
Unfortunately some people don't get the hint. Bing, they're back in your inbox. "What about next month?" You thought you were rid of them. Now, you have to make another choice.
- Ratchet up the lie beyond white lie to bald-faced.
- Tell the truth.
- Ignore the email.
I ask you...which of these is easier? Or, more acceptable?
As we try to keep our priorities straight and do what is important, we also don't want to be phony, or make people feel bad. The requests keep on comin'. So, sometimes we opt to live with a full inbox of requests.
Sometimes I am honest. Sometimes I'm not. And that's the truth.
Lunch is the hardest one for me. Lunch comes in the middle of the day, in the middle of meetings, in the middle of the peak of my energy and productivity. If you had lunch with everybody who wanted to have lunch you would go out of business. I'm sorry but that's how it is.
E-mail truly is is the great distancer. It's just words in cyberspace. Off it goes. Then, delete! And forget. I don't feel bad all the time. I really think sometimes people who make requests know the answer will be "no" and they want to give you an out, which is great.
This isn't easy for me to write because I have a sneaky feeling that some people who are awaiting an answer are going to see themselves in this article, and I'm sorry.
A few weeks ago Seth Godin, the marketing guru, wrote a great blog on how to say no. The list included, "No I'm sorry, I won't be able to have lunch with you." To that I would add: "No, I'm sorry I don't want to do that." "No I'm sorry, that doesn't interest me." "No, that will never be on my list of important things to do." These are honest ways to say no.
I just haven't found a way to actually say them. Even in an e-mail.