Email, you gotta
hate love it.
My introduction to email occurred about two decades ago when it opened up the possibility of real time communication with the whole world through an innocuous click. It also made serious inroads into my mastery of the fine art of workplace corridor loitering, you know the loitering you do as a junior whatever to wait for that perfect moment to jump into an office to experience some face time with a senior.
Some might say it is now outdated technology, that communication is all about flow and interaction. Email has a tendency to be fragmented and usually less gratifying. Some might also say that the advent of platforms such as Skype and Facebook chat have usurped the need for email. However, it seems that email is here to stay, at least in business.
I’m sure most of us have some humorous workplace email stories to tell. I’m also sure most of us have misunderstood or have been misunderstood through email and have had the experience where a lot of time and angst could have been avoided if we had just picked up this somewhat underutilised device, called the telephone.
For example, at my last workplace there was a row of desks and partitioning separating the offices which were located along each wall of a long corridor. Sort of like the Berlin Wall, but the offices belonged to people from the same
country department. Despite it being a five minute walk around the Wall (there were no gun or passport controls in evidence) and despite telephones being standard issue, my colleague would send me a slew of emails to deal with a simple matter that could have been resolved in a two minute conversation. Clearly this dude was not going to brave the Wall. Maybe he was too concerned about being thought of as a rebel dissident.
As I move through middle age, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about human interaction, relationships, motivation, influence and connectivity. I’m a fairly late study to these matters and so I approach all of them with the enthusiasm that only “mature age students” can muster.
I am particularly interested how humans use the “CC” field in email and how over time it has taken on a life of its own.
Here are couple of observations:
Using CC as a means of CYA
If you have ever played the ancient art of “telephone-tag” you will know that the convenience of an email is unsurpassed. You can get your point of view across quickly to a LOT of people at a time of your convenience.
This possibility has led to a rise in what is also an ancient art, the CYA. The CYA, or Cover Your Arse involves copying an email (through the use of the CC field – CC, standing for “circulate copy” or “carbon copy”) to twenty other people, the last eighteen of whom are at least five steps removed from the actual subject matter, and couldn’t give a toss about such minutiae. But, rather than back him or herself, the author has purposely set up an “out” if things go pear-shaped “But you knew, you had a copy of the email!”. Here’s a tip: knowing and receiving an email are vastly different things, especially if you have a high traffic in-box. I truly wonder how much these CC’s readers understand the whole matter, even if they do take time to read the email, given they would only have one side of the discussion in real time. Stop with the CC’s already!!
Using CC as an escalation device – the ultimate weapon
I will admit to this being my pet peeve as I detest passive aggression in any form.
This is an example of highly strategic use of the CC. It involves CCing* senior managers who are perceived as important. Rather than build relationships with the recipient, the author sees fit to CC* the recipient’s senior managers to make sure they know about what is usually a request of the recipient. This way, the senior manager can ensure that his or her underling is performing the required task.
Is this really necessary? Where are you going to escalate to, when escalation truly becomes necessary – if it in fact does? I’m sure that the Lord’s inbox is a lot fuller than yours and that he has other priorities.
How these people must bask in the light of CC afterglow. The cries of “Ha, I showed you and I didn’t even appear to be as spiteful as I really am” echoing through the cyberworld.
I’m not going to touch upon the BCC (being “blind circulate copy”) field in this post, which takes passive aggression to a whole other level.
In summary, the use of the CC field for anything other than what it was designed for is fraught. The agenda of the author is often clearly obvious from his or her use of the field. It is time folks, that we all stopped using the CC as a weapon and actually used it for the purposes of positive communication. Spare a thought not only for the primary recipient of the email as to how your CC will be perceived but also to all your poor CC recipients, who will either get RSI from hitting the delete key or have to spend hours filing your butt covering tracks away. Time better spent having a non-written conversation with a living, breathing human.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of some CC aggression? Do you have a humorous email use story you wish to share?