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Email Cuts Both Ways

September 16, 2010

Email, like its older relative, the written letter, has the special ability to impress its message upon the recipient that normal conversation does not. When we read a love letter or an affectionate email we internalize it. It feels good and we can relive that feeling when we go back and reread the message. Often we’ll save the message as a treasured keepsake.

But, the effect of this impression can cut both ways. Email is a woefully inadequate medium for effectively expressing negative affect or emotions — it is an interestingly effective medium for damaging relationships.   Psychologically the hurt that can be caused is deeper and more lasting because the parties read it, ‘hear it’, and internalize it.

I urge my family clients not to express their frustrations and anger over email. I remind them that their family relationships are precious and fragile.  I remind them that they have much work to do as family business colleagues.  And I urge them to focus on getting to work on the business of their relationships which has everything to do with the keystones of respect and caring.

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