Have you ever met an email vampire? Andrew Mellen, in Unstuff Your Life, describes email vampires as people who respond to a short message with paragraphs, who respond to your one question with 30 more, who–when you answer those questions–have 100 more. It’s an endless, vicious cycle. Nothing ever gets resolved. The only guarantee is more time wasted on email… and often more heartache. He suggests cutting off all contact.
But what about when you cannot cut off contact? What about when you don’t want to?
What are other ways of dealing with email vampires?
I have six suggestions:
1. Dial it back. Instead of amplifying the conversation, make it smaller. Narrow it down to the one or two (at most) issues that seem to be at stake and focus on those in brief responses.
2. Kindler, gentler email. Tone it down. My experience with email has been that the sender generally intends a milder tone than what is written and the receiver often assumes a harsher tone. This is a recipe for misunderstanding. Use intentionally kinder, gentler language.
3. Pick up the phone. This one is the most obvious, of course. When you sense any email exchange is getting out of hand, offer to meet face to face (best) or talk by phone (second best). Tone and body language just cannot be communicated via e-text.
4. Turn down the burner. Years ago I had an email exchange that got out of hand quickly, and it was all my fault. I assumed the sender was being accusatory and I fired an email right back (We’re all email vampires on occasion, right?). Thankfully, that exchange was resolved helpfully… in person.
So now my rule is if an email raises my blood pressure a few points, my response waits 24 hours. If I’m really upset, 48 hours.
This works great in family life too. When I’m wise enough to remember these words, I say, “I’m too angry to talk about this right now and I don’t make good decisions when I’m angry.”
5. Treat email like mail. If it’s not interrupting you every seven seconds, some vampires just go away. I treat this more fully in this post.
6. Walk it out. There is something to talking and walking. Walking is God’s speed… where we can see and hear what the other person is actually saying. And walking together implies that we are at least to some degree on the same journey.