“Did you get my e-mail?” asked Carrie.
“Yes, and I’m ignoring it,” replied Miranda.
“So far not impressed with the e-mail,” Carrie said with exasperation.
This bit of repartee from Sex and the City ran through my head as I stared at my computer, re-reading a seemingly innocuous but particularly irritating message.
As I fixated on the screen, I seethed. Let me explain: A group of public relations student colleagues and I were planning a strategic communications conference in Portland, Oregon scheduled for Winter 2009. I love event planning: the flowers, the food, the speakers, every last detail, but the specifics were irrelevant as we hadn’t been able to reach consensus about the scope of the event with the Journalism School coordinator. We wanted our first conference to start big; the coordinator had a smaller event in mind. We were at an impasse, completely frustrating my teammates and me. But we agreed to stand firm,
I read the e-mail again to be certain it said what I thought it did. There it was: “Woohoo! Can’t wait to plan this conference!”
How could one of my teammates have sided with the coordinator to show enthusiasm for the smaller event? Her jubilation just exacerbated her betrayal. She was a turncoat!
The next day, completely demoralized, I dragged myself to the group meeting. As my colleague entered the room, I pounced on her, asking why she changed her mind regarding the size of the event. Her reply unnerved me: “I didn’t. Didn’t you read the e-mail?” My dislike for e-mail only increased as I forced the word “yes” through my gritted teeth.
Apparently, beneath her exhilarated “Woohoo!” and the usual disclaimer about copyrights etc., was a response from the head of our school, giving us permission to create a large event. I was mortified for not reading the e-mail in its entirety, and embarrassed at my aggressive response -- but how was I supposed to know there was more to the message? It was enough to make me want to destroy my computer.
The truth is, that my generation has become completely dependent on e-mail, text messaging, basically instant communication. We hardly talk anymore.
Unfortunately, with these electronic facilitators it is far too easy to jump to conclusions, or misinterpret an e-mail message by eyeballing and failing to scroll all the way down the entire thread.
By misreading or not reading an e-mail in its entirety, the smallest disagreement can rapidly spin out of control leading to misunderstandings or face-to-face confrontation. Without effective communication at both ends, no business or personal relationship can survive.
I learned my lesson: read the entire e-mail before responding. Most conflict situations can easily be avoided and/or resolved by better interchanges with one another.
But I can’t help wondering: Are all these new forms of communication really helping us communicate more effectively? Please email me and let me know what you think!
Christine Limperis is a senior at the University of Oregon graduating in Public Relations and Communication Studies in June 2008. Next month, she will move to New York City to pursue a career in public relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org