When my wife was teaching middle school she had one of her students enter the classroom very upset. When she asked him what the problem was, he explained to her that whenever he would play a video game called Black Ops that his friend would hide in the bushes and shoot at him. My wife, trying to be helpful said to him, “There’s a word for that. That’s what we call a sniper.” He looked her in the eye and replied:
“No, Miss, that’s what we call a P***y.”
Out of the mouths of babes, right? The story is pretty funny but also has a ring of truth to it, because if someone is hiding and shooting at you, there’s very little chance of you seeing them before it’s too late. The other person is attacking you from a safe distance rather than facing you up close and there’s not much you can do. In the age of electronic communication this has bred a whole new group of people I like to refer to as email snipers.
We’ve all had some kind of encounter with an email sniper. They would never be rude to your face or in public, but get them behind a computer and all of a sudden there’s nothing they won’t say. The world of email provides a barrier of protection and as a result many people feel no inhibitions when it comes to tearing us up over the written word. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword and a set of well-placed words on our screen can indeed cut us to the quick. I encountered this just the other day when I sent out some invites to a private event I was hosting. I had one person who I had made some significant connections for in the past, respond with a simple, “Take me off your list.” Now how many people in real life would say that one sentence if you went up to them at an event and offered them something? I had another person respond with something a bit too rude to put in print. I have said it before and I’ll say it again:
There is absolutely no reason ever to be rude. It accomplishes nothing of value and destroys people’s opinion of you.
I would be very surprised if either of those people would see me in public and say the same thing they said over email. There’s simply a different feeling when we’re looking someone in the eye vs. when we are sitting behind a computer screen. When I encounter instances in which someone engages in email sniping, I do in fact take them off my list. I don’t want rude people in my life and I don’t want the people I know to be connected to those rude people. I’ve even had instances in which someone was rude to me over email and then saw me at an event and asked why I hadn’t responded to their latest request to see their show or meet them for coffee. If I think the relationship can be salvaged, I do my best to take them aside and explain the situation, but if they’ve been particularly rude, I simply tell them that I can’t invest time with people who treat me that way over email.
The trouble with electronic communication is that we can’t hear the sound behind each word which means we attach whatever intonation makes the most sense to us at the time of reading it. This is why it’s always better to have the tough conversations in person and to avoid terse responses to long emails.
Email snipers burn bridges faster than anyone else.
When reading a particularly scathing or rude email, there is no opportunity for you to answer back at any point in the email. You basically end up reading someone else’s monologue about why they are not happy or why they think you did something wrong. Your inability to respond only makes it more frustrating and you end up feeling powerless as you read. Over the years there have been people who have sent me emails that have caused me to not want to work with them ever again and I’m pretty forgiving. I can just imagine what someone who isn’t as forgiving does with those kinds of emails.
So the next time you are about to hit reply, take a few moments to think about what you are going to say.
Put down the gun.
Come out of the bushes.
People will respect you more and want to work with you.
Remember, no one trusts a sniper.