E-mail and Conflict

For about twenty-one years now I have watched people try and resolve conflict. I start to notice that some are better than others at it. Others don’t resolve it at all. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with it. I grew up in an interesting generation where most my age would resolve conflict using the internet, hiding behind their monitors. I have resolved my own conflicts using e-mail before. In fact, one of my favourite stories to tell is the time back in the beginning days of high school when I was helping a friend of mine break up with a girl. So he took my words and copied and pasted it in his conversation with her. As soon as the break up started, this girl messaged me and was sad because the guy was in the middle of breaking up with her. Here I was comforting this girl while breaking up with her through some other means. The internet brings an entire new way of dealing with conflict.

I have noticed though that as humans we always want to deal with conflict the easiest possible way, and many times we are willing to be skimpy on other important things like respect, common-sense, and relationship and even sometimes a sense of professionalism. For instance, back in the day I was organizing an event for some people and the plans were on their way. A local leader got whiff of the event that was being planned (a youth retreat for all the youth, not just one church) and then I received an e-mail. I was eighteen at the time; the e-mail was coming from someone at least double my age. It was full of assumptions, accusations, bold letters and lots of exclamation marks. After reading through it again a few minutes ago, the word ‘wrong’ was written out in capitals with exclamation marks splattered all over the page. I printed off the e-mail and within a few hours I was at his door asking for an explanation and to talk about it in person. Things were sorted out and dealt with accordingly. I have a feeling that if I would have just responded to the e-mail it would probably still be an issue today.

Rachel was listening to a radio show tonight and she heard them talking about a new study that was done (I think by Havard) in conflict resolution in the business place and with partners. After an intensive study they concluded that e-mail was the absolute worst place to resolve conflict and it almost never gets done properly and that face-to-face resolution is a quick and effective approach. Next time a conflict comes up, it would be wise not to default to e-mail or some sort of messenger to deal with it. Go to where they are and talk to them face to face, behind there barriers of 1’s and 0’s and the easy-breathing of not having to see their facial reactions. This isn’t just to resolve conflicts but any sort of important conversation or information or apologies; it’s not human to do it any other way.

I have a folder in my e-mail program called “AHHH” that has been growing since 2001. It is full of e-mails that I have sent or have been sent to me that were life-changing, made me laugh in pain or probably never should have been e-mails. Hopefully with time that folder won’t grow anymore. Unless I decide to propose by shooting my girlfriend an e-mail, then I might throw that one in there.

6 thoughts on “E-mail and Conflict”

  1. We just can’t stand the sharp quick pain involved in face to face conflict resolution. We seem to prefer the long drawn out torture of puting it off or dealing with it by email or asking someone to tell someone something and waiting for the reply.
    I prefer to deal with it up front but I had to learn that the hard way.

  2. Good thoughts Nate, I guess next time I’m mad I won’t email you. :) I’ll scream in your face :) And I think it was Stanford, but I could be wrong.

  3. nathan … good thinking … a neighbouring church out here has been in some deep conflict for 6 months now … an elder was away for a month, and came home to 400 angry, nasty e-mails. that’s 100 a month, 25 a week, almost 4 a day! and this is a church of 250 people. almost none of it was in any way productive. my new year’s resolution, while sitting on the beach at Tofino in July, was to resist my cop out tendency to e-mail people instead of calling them, going out for coffee with them, just talking to them.

    Dan Allender has a great quote on e-mail in his recent book “Leading with a Limp” … ‘e-mail is the scourge of modern communication. It facilitates the passing on of simple information, yet it forces complex matters to be presented in a fashion that makes what is difficult appear easy, and, in many cases, what is peripheral seem central. E-mail distorts. It allows thoughtful and reasonable communication to appear deranged and fury laden. And, if you read your e-mail with only half your synapses firing, you are doomed. Coffee helps, but e-mail still adds to the darkness of the looking glass. pg 77 chapter 6: The Problem of Complexity: all leaders see through a glass darkly.

  4. damn it, i dont have enough time to read everything and respond… in italy they need better conflict resolution to get me some high speed internet…. BAH. I cant upload anything.,…..
    Hope things are going well pal…. and I hope you havent rented out my room yet… (I’ll be home soon).

    Talk to you soon.

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