Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Irritate By Email

I'm sure the rest of you have plenty of useless email you have to sort through daily--a couple videos of McCain or Palin, election endorsements, dancing potatoes, announcements of upcoming local activities, requests for volunteers, and so forth. But that's not the kind of irritation I'm talking about.

I received an email today from someone who had a question for me. And being honest, the way the email was formed was so insulting and demeaning to me that I didn't want to respond at all. And when I did reply it was generally to deny him what he wanted. And really it was just the manner of "speaking" in the email which did actually hurt, and that alone was the reason that I was so disinclined to offer any help to the brother who was asking.

Because email is so pervasive as a means of communication nowadays, I wish people would develop their etiquette and manners when using the internet to deal with others. I am confident that if people would just in general be more polite and considerate when asking others for help, they would be more likely to find the help they are looking for and more. Behaving rudely, on the other hand, will probably only create enemies and prevent people from accomplishing their objectives. So better to be nice--chances are it will pay off.

So I want to list a few problems with the email I received today, and why it made me so upset. Just some background information on the prior correspondence: The brother first asked his question of me in a much more polite and considerate email, and I responded by asking for more information, since I was afraid that I didn't entirely understand what he was asking in the first place. Now, in his defense, he might have had a really bad day by the time he got around to writing this email to me, but by pointing out what about it was so offensive might help someone else (or me) in the future to remove such indicators that might also imply the writer is just horribly rude and self-interested.

1. The introduction: "Sigh.." Instead of greeting the recipient (me), the person writing this email decided to begin with a written declaration of a non-verbal expression of frustration. He typed out "Sigh.." instead of starting with any kind of greeting at all. Immediately this says to me, "I don't care about you, you are causing me trouble and I want you to know that I am mad at you." I can't see how I did anything to deserve such ire, so I feel that I am put on defense right away.

2. Restating the problem: Instead of answering my questions, (I only asked two), the email I received basically said the same thing as the original email--only now, instead of explaining or rephrasing as I had requested, he simply treated me as if I was being stupid and deliberately refusing to understand him.

3. All-Caps: Another problem in the brother's restating of his original email is that in addition to not adding anything new at all to help me explain, he would occasionally CAPITALIZE some words, as if to emphasize his frustration at having to repeat himself. But I didn't ask for repetition, I asked for explanation. And I wasn't getting it.

4. Got it?: Also, while restating the same request as the previous email, the author now chose to end each sentence with the phrase, "Got it?" as if he is berating a child--at least, that's how I felt. Since he isn't talking to me in person, I can't really answer whether I "got it" or not--if I could, I would say no and ask him to kindly rephrase it so I can try again. But because this is an email, and clearly the author does not want an actual response to his question, it serves no purpose at all except to be rude. The next three sentences in the email (after the opening "sigh") all ended with "got it?" (There were only 4 sentences total...) So excessively using this phrase in such a manner was both demeaning and insulting--inconsiderate of whether I "got it" or not, and perhaps also an attempt to just force an answer out of me. In fact, it made me angry.

5. Spelling it out: Another technique employed by the writer, as if he were determined to hurt my feelings, was deliberately spelling out a particular word. I had asked him to clarify what he meant by using that word, since I was not familiar with it being used in such a context. (That's what I had written to him.) But instead of clarifying the meaning, he opted once to CAPITALIZE the word, and the second time to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t. Even over the phone or in person this technique would be considered rude. But he is not speaking with the risk that I am confusing one word for another--I can clearly read it. But employing this technique was again a show of frustration on his part, or else a calculated attempt to offend me. And still he failed to explain the usage, which is all I'd requested in the first place.

6. Implying reader stupidity: The next offense was the use of the following phrase, "I can't imagine of speaking more simpler english than this..." Now, for someone who is a native English speaker, this phrase reeks of the arrogance of a non-native speaker who seems to think he knows English better, but doesn't, as evidenced by a small mistake. So in this phrase, the writer is telling me that I must be too stupid to understand English, and he can't possibly make it any simpler. So he's refusing to answer my original requests, and insulting me to boot as if to imply that the reason I can't understand him is a deficiency in my intelligence or linguistic capability.

7. Salutations: It's only worth mentioning that to top off the email, there was no salutation at all. And that is probably worse than anything he could connive to conclude.

Overall, the email told me that he didn't care at all for my input, he probably regretted asking me in the first place, that he found me to be a stupid or ignorant person incapable of helping him. It's really sad, then, that the subject of the email was the brother is planning to give a speech about da'wah. And I can pretty much guarantee that da'wah like the way that brother treated me would send people running as far and fast from Islam as their legs will carry them.

And I know anyone can get frustrated with something and have that frustration come off unintentionally towards the recipient of an email. But this particular note had so many offenses I thought it might be worth pointint out... for anyone else who is trying to ask for help via email, be nice. You'll have much more success that way.

InshaaAllaah I might write a follow-up post about tips to avoid coming off as an egotistical misogynistic self-interested clown.


Taiyyaba said...

Ugh - i just got an horrid email like this too. Makes you want to reach through the screen and slap the person and say "Didn't your Mama teach you no manners?"

Best of luck responding to the egotistical misogynistic self-interested clown.

Anonymous said...

yep, keep him away from dawah, that is for sure.