Think Before You Send : Why Words Still Matter

Go away!

Two words that leave no doubt about their intended meaning. The stuff of NO TRESPASSING signs and text-message breakups. Words that get to the point and hit their target. Words that, depending on the context, can hurt.

A colleague who runs a web design and marketing business recently sent an email newsletter announcing some new service offerings. Like all conscientious email marketers, she put an opt-out link at the end of her email telling recipients how to unsubscribe. One reader who wanted to opt out took it a step further, emailing her to “Go away!”

While most of her reader feedback was positive, this one message bothered her.

I know how she feels: While praise about our work is always appreciated, negative comments seem to hit harder and reverberate longer. Either the “Go away!” writer didn’t think a real human being would read his or her email…or he or she just didn’t care. But would they say that to my colleague’s face? I like to think not.

Email, texting, and social media communications let us exchange information with just a couple clicks. OMG! LOL! We write in text message shorthand. A new generation of writers doesn’t always know the difference between formal English and Internet slang. But these immediate, concise forms of communication have a downside. We forget that people sometimes read our messages. People who are trying to do their jobs. People who may take our words to heart. People who are supposed to help us, the angry customers.

I’m guilty of this too. When my website went down without warning, my email message to my webhost’s customer support wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy. It was peppered with words like “unacceptable” and punctuated with exclamation points. There may have been some ALL CAPS tossed in to show I meant business.

A tech support person had to read my angry email and respond professionally. They did, and the problem was resolved. I felt guilty after, and reminded myself that a message to a general @customer service support address may actually go to a real live person. I think it’s easier to vent and get a little nasty when there isn’t a human being’s name in the To: field.

The same “Let’s drop the niceties” barrier also goes up when dealing with those despised telemarketers (my mom, bless her, just clicks them off). I don’t know you, I can’t see you, I’m not interested in what you’re promoting…therefore I don’t need to be civil to you. And why the hell are you calling me at dinner time anyway?!

My colleague’s experience with the “Go away!” message was a thorny reminder that words still matter. Even now, when we communicate via Facebook and Twitter and texting more than we interact with our colleagues face to face or by phone. Times are changing. But communicating with a little restraint and respect will never go out of style.

Before you send that angry email or flame that company on Facebook or Twitter – stop and think: How would I feel if I received that message? Would I provide better service? A little civility goes a long way. Our words can still be pointed and powerful, but we don’t have to stab each other with them. If we expect people to treat us with respect, we have to be willing to take the time to show it ourselves.

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