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A Quick Guide to Email: Not Being “That Guy”

A Quick Guide to Email: Not Being “That Guy”

A Quick Guide to Email: Not Being

    If you’re reading this, odds are you are a knowledge worker whose time is very valuable and who requires large chunks of uninterrupted time in order to do whatever it is you are being paid to do.  You aren’t cranking widgets.  Instead, you’re trying to discover the history and social significance of widgets across cultural contexts, or you’re trying to design a revolutionary new machine to produce widgets, or you’re looking for ways to improve the widget supply chain, or you’re working for an upstart start-up beta-testing widget 2.0.  Your time is valuable and interruptions can be extremely costly.  Not surprisingly, email is probably your #1 daily time-waster.  This article will take a slightly different tack.  Instead of offering suggestions for dealing with incoming email, I’m going to offer a few tips for not being “That Guy” who is constantly wasting everyone else’s time with email.

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    Email has changed the way that people communicate.  It has made it much, much easier to send and receive important information.  It has also made it much, much easier to send and receive time-wasting nonsense.  The cruel irony is that since important information requires so much more careful thinking, the proportion of workplace communication consisting of time-wasting nonsense has probably risen.  The amount of careful thinking required for important information and time-wasting nonsense might remain unchanged, but since the cost of transmission is now essentially zero, the relative cost of time-wasting nonsense has fallen.  Therefore, time-wasting nonsense consumes a larger share of workplace (indeed, total) communication.  So here are a few ways you can be an agent of change.

    Don’t Forward That Message.

    Did someone just send you an email suggesting that Bill Gates is driving around with his lights off so that he track down people who flash their lights at him, knock them out with “perfume samples,” rob them, and donate the proceeds to a charity that will help find a missing teenage girl from Philadelphia so she can testify before Congress to see that “In God We Trust” remains on US currency because if it doesn’t, “Touched By an Angel” will be forever banned from TV?  A couple of things are true about this email:

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    1. It’s probably a lie, and this can easily be verified at www.snopes.com.
    2. Even if it isn’t, it’s probably outside the ability of anyone you’re sending the forward to to do anything about.  The relevance and importance of an email is an increasing function of the degree to which it contains actionable information. It is possible that I may someday wake up in a bathtub full of ice with both kidneys removed if I don’t take certain precautionary steps.  This is extremely unlikely, and the potential email forwarder should not mistake what is possible from what is probable.  Just because something could happen doesn’t mean it will.

    Don’t Send Mass Requests to Distribution Lists Indiscriminately.

    Seriously.  Don’t.  Internal distribution lists were created to help people communicate mission-critical information to everyone on the list.  Do you have a friend who is looking for an apartment?  Need to find a home for a stray cat?  Use Craigslist, not the everyone@yourcompany.com distribution list.  These messages do convey information that some people find useful but that a lot of other people don’t.

    Get the Email Monkey Off Your Back.

    This is standard advice among people who want to control their information inflow.  It’s also great advice for people who want to control their information output, too.  Specifically, it’s a great way to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of your information output.  Staying constantly engaged with email increases the number of opportunities you have to produce garbled, noisy communication, while being judicious about your email is a good way to prevent yourself from abusing a friend or colleague’s precious mental energy. The popular “email monkey” metaphor is appropriate for another reason.  Monkeys are notorious for throwing fecal matter.  Common courtesy demands that you not throw a digital version of the same thing.

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    Establishing expectations is also important.  I’ve run into a couple of snafus because people expect me to be connected at all times.  It’s true that this created some trouble, but communicating to people that I’m not always and everywhere available was worth it.  Further, for the prospective time-wasting emailer, it is important to remember that when you waste someone else’s time you invite them to waste yours. If you get a lot of stupid emails, this might be in part due to the fact that people know they can contact you at any time and get an immediate response.

    Ask Whether Your Email Is Important.

    Are you asking someone for information that could be looked up easily?  Even if it isn’t, are you sure that what you’re asking for is the best use of the recipient’s time?  If you’re asking a subordinate to prepare a brief on how the sock industry performed last year, are you being clear in what you’re asking for?  Do they trust that their time isn’t being wasted?  If the answer to any of these is “no,” then re-read and re-think the email you’re about to send.

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    Build Good Email Habits By Starting Small.

    We all produce a great deal of “Ill Communication”.  It’s a byproduct of the digital age.  When you have a few free minutes, look in your “sent items” folder for the number of emails you sent yesterday.  At least one of those was probably unnecessary, so you can probably save your company and yourself time and energy by trying to reduce that number by one.  During your weekly review (you are doing a weekly review, aren’t you?), try to calculate the number of emails you send in an average day and try to reduce that average.  The next week, try to reduce that average by one.  I would guess that most people could cut their email output by ten percent or so and maintain or even increase their productivity, all other things remaining equal.

    The problem with email is that it allows the email sender to treat everyone’s attention as if it were common property. This produces a predictable “tragedy of the commons” whereby everyone’s attention is being over-exploited.  The norms of courtesy for email communication are still being developed, and it is important for people to learn how to respect others’ time and attention.  For the email-ee, it is important to show people how to do this by being diligent about ensuring that they do not encroach on your private property: your time and your attention.

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on July 15, 2020

    How to Let Go of Toxic People in Your Life

    How to Let Go of Toxic People in Your Life

    “Entitlement is an expression of conditional love. Nobody is ever entitled to your love. You always have a right to protect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being by removing yourself from toxic people and circumstances.” -Dr. Janice Anderson & Kiersten Anderson

    It’s not always obvious if you have someone toxic in your life. A toxic relationship is one that is harmful to you. A toxic person can create distress to the degree you feel inadequate and isolated. So, what makes a toxic person?

    A toxic person has toxic behavior, meaning it’s not that the whole person is toxic[1]. It’s what they do that counts. Most toxic people run from accountability and misrepresent reality to you. They misrepresent your worth and your ability to heal from them can be stifled the longer you keep them in your life. You have a role to play with it as well; if your values are dismissed by them and you don’t act on it, you have allowed room for toxicity to grow.

    When you are in a toxic relationship, you feel less than. You feel as though you are not worth anyone’s time or effort. You feel unheard, and sometimes you feel unsafe. You don’t feel good about yourself in a toxic relationship, whether it be with a partner, friend, or family member.

    You may stay in a toxic relationship for a number of reasons. You may believe yourself to be a burden, have a lack of boundaries, resist change, fear conflict, try to be a people pleaser, find yourself codependent, or are partially stuck in a pattern or unhealthy cycle of abuse.

    Letting go of toxic people may not be easy. In order to do so, you have to know why or how they are toxic to you and read between the lines that they do not have your best interests in mind.

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    Letting go of toxic people is hard because you are good and want to see the good in others. You think their apologies are authentic. You have trouble believing they are being dishonest. You don’t spend time healing from it. You get pulled back into the pain because you don’t want it to end. However, if you feel like something isn’t right, it probably isn’t right.

    You should walk away from a toxic person because you need to preserve your peace. You need to feel like yourself again. And you need better support.

    Letting go of toxic people can involve four major steps.

    1. Recognize the Red Flags

    Red flags are signs a person is being toxic. It’s when someone shows characteristics that you should feel caution about. It’s when you feel any level of dissatisfaction and distrust. Trust your gut. When you recognize red flags, you can evaluate whether a person is trying to manipulate you or not. This gives you some level of control over what you allow in your life. The earlier you detect these behaviors, the better off you will be.

    Red flags can include:

    • They always put themselves first.
    • They point out imperfections and sabotage your self-esteem.
    • You may feel drained or used when you’re around them.
    • What you give isn’t reciprocated. They don’t return the goodness you provide as a friend.
    • They ignore your boundaries and get angry when you tell them “no.”
    • You catch them in half truths or outright lies when you confront them about anything.
    • You are the villain; they are the victim.
    • Second chances always lead to repeated patterns of behavior.
    • They may engage in abuse.

    2. Set Boundaries

    There are emotional boundaries that one can set, but there are also physical ones[2]. You can leave any time. Setting boundaries is also an important part of self-care.

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    You shouldn’t walk on eggshells. Tell them how you feel. Are they respecting you, fulfilling your needs, and listening to you? If not, it’s time to set up a healthy emotional distance and start letting go of toxic people around you.

    There are levels to this. You have your inner circle, which could include family, and then you have acquaintances and strangers. If a toxic person is in your inner circle, it’s time to pull back and put up some boundaries for them to follow. If they can’t hear you out, you can cut off the connection completely.

    You can give second chances, but you have to be careful. If someone knows they can get away with something, they will do it again. If there’s any chance for the relationship, they have to know not to cross certain lines.

    3. Invest in Yourself

    You deserve to know you are worthwhile. Try to remember that things will get better and that anything is possible. How do you do so? Invest in yourself.

    This means self care, goal setting, surrounding yourself with positive support, and feeling a sense of peace. Your greatest ambition should be to love yourself. Without self-love, letting go of toxic people will be difficult.

    Every relationship is a risk, but if you know yourself and what you will allow, toxic people will have less of a hold over you. If you are a giver or people pleaser, you are most at risk to being in a one-sided relationship. You shouldn’t be punished for caring, but sometimes trust needs to be earned. If you have self-love, you are treating yourself the best way possible. You know that others need to meet your standards; otherwise, they don’t get to be a part of your life.

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    It’s possible that you can love yourself and still not see the signs. It can be difficult for some to be aware that toxic people exist. However,, if you know how much you mean to others in your life and what you are worth, you will be less likely to take on a relationship that is harmful to you or repeat negative patterns. Self-love is how we get out of toxic relationships, but it’s also how they never begin.

    4. Know When Forgiveness Is Possible

    There are times a person will prove their worth to you. They may make a mistake that makes them seem like a horrible person. They may forget to be good to you because of their own issues. They may just have no example of what a healthy relationship looks like. They may have an inflated ego that really comes from insecurity. The list goes on.

    If they apologize, that’s a start. Look at their actions. Are they changing for the better because they really want to change or just seeming to in order to manipulate you? A person may control others with their image or perceived personality, but if you see through them, you may be able to discern the degree to which they are willing to be there for you.

    If they start to do the right thing, you may begin to trust them again. Don’t start forgiving them until time has passed and you are sure there is growth, even if they show vulnerability or remorse. You can give a second chance if they truly have an awakening. Otherwise, it’s best to get out. Don’t let them walk all over you; let them walk out the door.

    If you do give a second change and they still refuse to change, you have every right to remove them and continue the process of letting go of toxic people. The moment you even want to leave may also be a good time to get out. You don’t have to compromise yourself in order to care for them.

    Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger[3]. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. You have to go back to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from someone. You don’t have to let them back in. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.

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    Remember, forgiveness is ultimately for you, not them. You don’t need that person in your life in order to forgive them, and if you give them a second chance, proceed with caution.

    Final Thoughts

    Recognize the red flags, set boundaries, invest in yourself, and know when forgiveness is possible. This is how you cope with a toxic person impacting your life. You have power in the direction of your life and the people who accompany you as you move forward. Use it.

    If a person is worthwhile, they will prove themselves through their actions, not their words. If they cross certain lines that really harm you, you owe them nothing. You have every right to feel what you feel and to be upset. Honor your feelings and communicate them because it’ll only continue to keep happening if you don’t.

    If this is happening to you, it’s time to put a stop to it. It’s time to take control. It’s time to live for yourself, not for what others say about you. It’s time to set your standards higher than they’ve ever been before. And most of all, it’s time to let go.

    Resource reminder: A physically abusive relationship is ALWAYS toxic. There are resources for you. Always speak up.

    If you are in such a cycle or domestic violence or abuse reach out for help. For example, there is The National Domestic Violence Hotline (https://www.thehotline.org/) which can be reached at 1−800−799−7233. There are other ways to get help if you simply ask for it. 

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    Featured photo credit: Hannah Busing via unsplash.com

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