There’s something magic about being able to send and receive messages all around the world in real time. It helps us keep in touch with people who live far away, it allows us to learn about other places and people and cultures.
There’s also something a little dangerous about receiving real-time information: we can feel compelled to respond faster than we’re quite prepared to do.
And the thing about email, or other messages in text form, is that the person receiving them isn’t privy to the context of the sender. My lack of sleep, bad mood, or recent great news: these are all absent from the electronic message I’m sending. But their effect on my message is still there. And sometimes it gets in the way.
The piece that can go missing: very few messages require an immediate response.
That may sound radical, particularly if you generally communicate with people who think everything is urgent. But often, a two-minute delay, or an overnight delay, or a even few-day delay, can make all the difference. I’ll say it again, because I think it’s important:
Very few messages require an immediate response.
And given that I send and receive a lot of messages, here’s what I've learned to do:
First, consider the effect of sending an immediate response. And then consider the effect of sending a delayed, yet thoughtful and reassuring response.
Am I in the middle of making plans with someone (or trying to meet up with them in the next few minutes)? Probably an immediate response will work best.
Am I in the middle of an ongoing discussion: more of a lengthy conversation than a set of logistics? Probably a slightly-delayed response will work fine.
Have I just sent something that has been misconstrued? Am I trying to resolve a situation? Are messages flying fast and furious, and am I feeling strongly emotional about the topic? Here’s where it can be tricky: an immediate reply might be the way to make things happen right away. But if that immediate reply doesn’t give me time for editing and re-reading, I just might (and often do) make things worse.
My favorite technique: draft the message and then re-read it after turning my mind to something else. This might just take a few minutes of walking around the room or reading unrelated messages; it might take a few hours, or till the next day, or even longer, before I’m ready to edit and send.
Many (most?) of these times when there’s a conflict coming up, my first email is all wrong: I make inappropriate jokes, I try to make light of heavy situations, or I’m defensive. And when I re-read a message like that, I’m REALLY glad that I didn’t send it when I wrote it.
If communications come fast and furious in your world, and if you struggle to keep people happy via email (or other text-based communication), see what you can do to experiment with delaying ‘send’. Fight the urge to do everything instantly, and see how you can add some perspective to your communications. It just might make things easier.