Mouse-to-Mouse Conflict

Six ways to avoid an email battle

I knew better than to hit the send button on my keyboard, but I did it anyway. I wanted Gretchen (not her real name) to understand my feelings about her early-morning message. Her request sounded innocent enough: "Would you cover my spot this Sunday while I'm on vacation?" But the polite tone didn't fool me for a minute. As she'd done so often, Gretchen had assumed I'd serve without her asking me first. Once again she'd substituted my name for hers on the ministry schedule before she sent the email. Her "request" was a sham. Like always, I felt abused and taken for granted.

After I launched my reply, I read back through it. Firm but controlled, I thought as I scrolled down the lines. I doubted Gretchen would ever guess how much I resented her arrogance.

Boy, was I wrong.

Conflict resolution experts tell us the most effective communication takes place face to face, not mouse to mouse. But the hours we spend in front of our computer screens may tempt us to ignore that advice. Why wait to make a phone call when we can fire off an email and move a problem off our desk? Why not address grievances from a safe distance so no one sees our anger or frustration?

Looking back, I recognize ways I could have avoided denting my relationship with Gretchen. And I'd like to think it won't happen again. But our anti-virus/anti-spam software doesn't come with guarantees we'll never find provocative or stinging messages in our inboxes. Sometimes we'll be able to deal with the clashes in person or by phone. Other times we may need to respond through a reply button. When circumstances demand a keyboard-driven answer, here are six tips for making those confrontations more successful.

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