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February 28, 2006
Think Before You Send

Isn't it about time business organizations put some teeth behind their messaging policies? I mean e-mail has been a staple of business communication for a least a decade, and we still treat it with kid gloves. But the medium has become so ubiquitous and so darn easy that we don't stop to think before banging out a missive and tapping the send button.

For some reason, we can distance ourselves when communicating via electronic messaging. A thought pops into our heads, we send off a message. If we have to confront someone, e-mail keeps our exposure to a minimum. If we have a problem at work, we can easily go over someone's head, start rumors, or talk to the competition. If we have a simple question, why figure it out for ourselves when we can spam our co-workers and make them do the work? Why explain something when we can just include an attachment? And never mind that the attachment also includes sensitive information that may not be appropriate for everyone on the distribution.

A business-related phone conversation is still a more intimate interaction. It often requires more forethought to navigate the intermediaries, and more composure when speaking in real time. But e-mail has broken down all the boundaries, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has also apparently removed the need for forethought. You can Cc: the CEO on the most mundane questions, which creates a new and unnecessary stream of follow-ups. And e-mail makes it easy and compelling to over-delegate.

The problem is also manifesting itself in higher education. Professors routinely give out their e-mail addresses to students, and the result, according to a recent New York Times article, is that it has made them too approachable and hinders their productivity. In the article, , professors lament that e-mail has made them available around the clock and open to a barrage of questions, demands, complaints and critiques that border on inappropriate. If an issue is not important enough to meet with the professor during office hours, it can be communicated via e-mail. And students don't seem to understand that what they write in e-mails reflects on their judgment and can result in bad recommendations.

And that's the disturbing thing; these students are entering the workforce.

Bad e-mail habits need to be regarded as bad work behavior. Warnings need to be issued to repeat offenders. If you open harmful spam on the corporate network, that's a decision that could harm the business and needs to be dealt with under those terms. "Whoops, my bad" is no longer an appropriate response.

E-mail makes it easy not to think first, that's sort of been the culture of the medium. But it is not an undercover medium. You're not sliding notes back and forth in class. It's often monitored, but policies are not always enforced, or they are too lax in areas that do not concern blatant HR violations, intellectual property or privacy. That needs to change.

Doing The Blackberry Limbo

The Judge's decision was no decision last week in the ongoing patent infringement case against Research In Motion. U.S. District Judge James Spencer stopped short of issuing an injunction to shut down RIM's network of Blackberry devices. But he did note that RIM seems to have infringed on NTP's patents, and that a decision on an injunction would be forthcoming. So Blackberry users are still in limbo land, but many watchers believe the Judge's non-decision was an invitation to RIM and NTP to settle the case before an injunction.

Posted by Mitch Irsfeld at 02:57 PM | Permalink

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