How to Write E-Mail That Makes Communication Impossible

Sometimes, people use e-mail to appear to communicate without actually doing so. That’s the case in the e-mail exchange sent to me by my friend and colleague Deborah. Here’s how she explained it. “Leslie, tonight is the annual meeting of my condo community, with election of new board members. At 1:15 today, I received the following mass e-mail from the community manager.

Subject: You can email your vote
Date: 11/18/2010
Time: 1:15 pm

If you cannot attend the Annual Meeting tonight, you can email your vote today. Just fill out the attached ballot and email it back to me by 3 pm. It is important that everyone vote…..

Deborah then explained to me, “The attachment is a .JPG, a scan of the ballot. So, here’s my response to the community manager.

Subject: RE: You can email your vote
Date: 11/18/2010
Time: 1:45 pm

Excellent idea about e-mailing the ballot by 3 p.m., but this is a .JPG file — a graphic. To “fill it out,” I’d have to print it, mark my selections, scan it, download the scan, and then e-mail it back.  That seems kinda complicated.

And here’s the kicker, the manager’s final reply:

Subject: RE: You can email your vote
Date: 11/18/2010
Time: 2:00 pm

This year this is our option, unfortunately we did not have the time to simplify the process. We hope to make this simple in future years.

Deborah wrapped up by commenting “At least he was honest! I don’t get the impression that they really care if I vote or not!” I think she’s being nice about the manager’s honesty and that she’s right on the money about management not wanting people to vote. This is a clear example of using e-mail to impede communication:

  • The timeframe is unreasonable. If you really want to receive the votes of hundreds of residents in a condo community, you’ll ask for them more than an hour and 45 minutes before the deadline. 
  • Asking people to e-mail a marked-up JPG is unreasonable. The hassle factor is way too high. I wonder if the condo manager has heard of a convenient little software application called Microsoft Word. It’s perfect for forms that need to be filled out.

E-mail is cheap, convenient, and immediate. It’s easy for people who actually want to obstruct true communication to hide behind e-mail. Maybe the newly un-seated condo board members are behind the JPG ballot? Is this bad e-mail part of a conspiracy to retain power? (Maybe I’ve been living in DC too long …)

What do you think? Would you like to share any examples of e-mail non-communication? Post them here or e-mail me.

 — Leslie O’Flahavan

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