Hiding behind Email

Prompted by my posts about “different direction” and “ghosting,” a related phenomenon is hiding behind email, especially as a way to deliver bad news. Maybe it is just me, but it seems a matter of professionalism and fairness that, if one asks someone else to do something like prepare a proposal for consulting services, the asker should be willing to talk with the proposal preparer after receiving it. Proposals are not free; there are real costs associated with them. Even if it’s only the paper on which the original is printed then scanned, there is a cost; sending a hard copy costs even more with postage or delivery costs. More costly is the time to prepare it, which can be a couple of hours for some proposals. At Magnus, a good deal of thought and discussion goes into custom designing research programs. So, why is it that the courtesy of talking doesn’t always exist? My practice is to follow up with a phone call a day or two after sending proposals to see what questions the client may have or to discuss the options I’ve provided. I am disappointed at how often these calls are not accepted or returned, and if I’m not being ghosted, perhaps I’ll get an email with the “different direction” message. Why do people consider this acceptable? I suspect for some it is to avoid conflict or delivering bad news. But, hiding behind email, rather than using a more appropriate medium like a telephone call seems petty to me. The original request was by phone, why not the follow up? To me, a follow up call is an opportunity to explain, or perhaps refine, a proposal. Not taking that opportunity is a loss for all. And, it is rude besides. Conversing, to the contrary, is professional and can be a learning experience.

I love to discuss, and write about, etiquette.  As a social psychologist, I am keenly aware of the social norms involved in etiquette, which involves far more than knowing which fork to use.  There is a certain etiquette involved in communicating with others, in both professional and personal settings.  This includes “responding in kind” to someone.  For example, if someone has called someone on the telephone, the proper thing to do is to either answer the phone and speak to the caller or, if this is not possible, return the phone call as soon as time allows.  It is never, in my opinion, appropriate to reply to a telephone call with a text message, email, or letter.  Similarly, if one receives an email, the appropriate way to reply is via email.  These rules or norms aren’t too complicated, but some people evidently missed this day of “charm school.”  (Once again, many thanks to my mom for forcing, and I do mean forcing, me to attend a weekly class to learn etiquette, among other things, from the renowned Zenobia King Hill!)  David is right about some people hiding behind email because they just can’t bring themselves to say “We’ve decided to hire another trial consultant” or relay other bad news, but this approach is, in my opinion, a coward’s way out of a difficult situation.  As many etiquette experts have agreed, good manners are little more than kindness.  Deciding whether to be kind shouldn’t be too difficult and neither should doing the right thing.  

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