Getting Along Well With Others: The Inverse Email Response Time Rule

I’ve decided to implement a new rule. The response time for all incoming business email will be inversely proportional to the speed with which the sender has responded to an email from me, with an added 24 hours waiting period if said sender’s comments are rude, obnoxious, sarcastic or insulting.

Why?  Let’s call it an act of peace.

This week I sent out what I intended to be a helpful email to a business colleague. I was met with a response, within minutes, that basically said “you’re an idiot.” Now this was not especially surprising, since this particular sender has long displayed a complete lack of social and diplomatic skills – and I can forgive that – but I was nonetheless not particularly pleased. I have a job to do, and since this person stands in the way of getting it done, this poses a significant obstacle.  It’s hard to do your job well when the person on the other side doesn’t stop to give it thoughtful consideration and instead goes looking for roadblocks.

So what did I do? I waited. I breathed. I looked for my part. I wrote a draft email in response, in part just to get the hot air and emotion out of my system.

“You might want to omit the addressee in that email,” my husband says, peering over my shoulder. “That way, if you accidentally hit Send, it won’t actually go.”

“Good point,” I reply, backspacing over the recipient’s name. Then I carefully file it in my drafts folder to be reviewed, and no doubt amended, the following day.

I share the story in my weekly meditation class the next morning, where, ironically enough, we practise a loving kindness meditation, Lovingkindness meditation invites us to consider other people’s actions in a compassionate light and it affords me an opportunity to think kindly of this person who is such a pain in the ass. It really does help.

I explain the email explosion then zoom back to put it in context. “She is a single mother, carrying a big case load at work and at home. I can understand why she explodes once in a while. I just happen to be a convenient target.”

It really isn’t personal, I realize.  I look at the floor for a moment and breathe in that truth. In that light, I am able to soften toward this other person.  At least for now.

My classmates nod and join in the discussion. Everyone has a story to share and the conversation is lively and engaged.

“We should have a pause button instead of send,” one woman suggests.

“My email program asks about attachments,” another chimes in. “It detects that I’ve said I’ve attached something and then asks me if I really meant that.” She grins and adds, “What we really need is one that detects anger.”

We all laugh.

“Yeah, not to mention the f-bomb detector,” Barb pipes in, causing us to laugh all the harder.

“With the flamethrower attachment,” says the cop.  By this time, there are tears rolling down my cheeks, in a combination of laughter and relief.

I’m not alone in this.

When I return to my office later that day, I can look at my email with fresh eyes. I end up deleting three-quarters of what I’ve written, leaving only the bare bones of a response. Brief, cordial, business-like. No f- bombs, no flame-thrower. Just peace and a smile when I hit the send button.