Have you ever wished you could unsend an email?

August 27th, 2015

I recently discovered that Google’s Gmail has an “undo send” function. Turn it on and you can have up to 30 seconds to unsend an email that you just sent.

Of course, I enabled it and thought, “This is a great feature! I’ll probably need to use it!”

Then I felt a little sad — ashamed even — that I believed I needed such a feature.

There's something about a screen and keyboard that helps us feel detached from the people we're communicating with. It gives us a false sense of security, and we feel like we can express anything from the depths of our minds. Thus trolling has become a big part of Internet communications.

It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us would think twice about the things we say on comment boards and in emails if we were face to face with the actual person. (What always drives me crazy is when I reach out to someone [in person or over the phone] who sent an angry email and they totally play it off. “Oh, you got that? It was nothing really. Don’t worry about it.” No, it obviously was something.)

I know a colleague who has a habit of firing off emails and then apologizing for them later. But who hasn’t sent emails that we later regret and/or have to apologize for? We’ve all been recipients of those emails, too.

And if you’re anything like me, the first thing you want to do is to send a response that is equally scathing and sarcastic and shaming. But the recipient of that email usually fails to see your humor and intelligence. Now they’re even more offended and the likelihood of them responding with an even nastier email has increased.

So then we receive another email … and the situation escalates from there. The maddening thing is that the majority of the drama, ill feelings and misunderstanding could be avoided with a phone call or (even better) a face-to-face.

My goal is to never have to use the “undo send” feature.

Before I knew it even existed, I came up with some personal guidelines to follow when writing an email or blog post in response to something I don’t like:

  1. I always write on a word processor, because the temptation to push the “send” or “post” button is often too much to resist. 
  2. Sleep on it. Contrary to popular belief, not everything has to be FAST and NOW. Sleeping on it helps clear your mind and spirit and helps eliminate the initial strong emotional reaction. 24 hours usually works best. 
  3. During that time of sleeping on it, I often do something to work off built-up stress. Sometimes it’s a walk. Sometimes it’s a quick round of whatever is in my PS4. Sometimes it’s getting ice cream with the family. Sometimes it’s a quick workout. (When I do go to work out, all of my workouts are quick). In all that I’m doing, prayer is involved. Anything to ground me back to the here and now; to reframe my thoughts; to remind myself of grace. 
  4. After some time away, I reread the email/post and edit it. 
  5. Then I sleep on it again, but this time I ask myself: a) can this email help make things better? b) would (and could) I say this to the person’s face? If the answer is no to either of the questions, then I know I should not send it. If the answer is yes: 
  6. I read it one more time and send it.

Are these steps fail-proof? Absolutely not. But the point for me is to eliminate the knee-jerk reaction that usually does the bulk of the damage.

While I hope to never have to use the “undo send” feature, the one absolute way to guarantee that is to reach out to the person in, well, person. A phone call at minimum but a face-to-face conversation is the best way to resolve conflict, even if there is no resolution.

You’ll at least be proactive in keeping conflict to a minimum and decreasing the chances of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Being reactive rarely helps defuse tension.

Yes, a lot of the times, you’ll have to be the “bigger person” to refuse to continue the dialogue in email and to continue it in person. And usually it sucks to have to be the bigger person. But most of the time, you’re better off for it in the long run.

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