ARTICLES, INSIGHTS & IDEAS
by Eli Mina
BACK TO "SHARED DECISION MAKING" MENU
PAUSE BEFORING PUSHING THE SEND BUTTON
By Eli Mina, M.Sc.

Much has been said about the risk of overusing e-mail. This article provides yet another perspective, to be considered by Board or Council members in public organizations (e.g.: local government, school boards, etc.).

Imagine this scenario: A member of a public Board gets annoyed with a colleague's statement or with how the Chair treats him at a meeting. He then composes an angry e-mail. Before sending it, he decides to add clout by placing all Board Members and Senior Staff on the distribution list, thereby spreading the venomous message further. The attacked member responds with his or her own attack. Not to be outdone, other members chime in. A full blown e-mail war erupts. Is this an effective way to resolve a dispute? Clearly not.

In another scenario, a Council member who rarely speaks during meetings sends condescending e-mails about citizens who observe Council meetings or speak as public delegations. One day he pushes the SEND button without noticing that the recipient is a media reporter. The comments become the source of news stories, not the kind of publicity a public official looks for.

E-mail is a powerful communication tool. It expedites the sharing of information and can save time and paper. However, if not used carefully, it can make your worst nightmare a reality.

What to do? Here are a few suggestions:

First, although e-mail is useful for sharing information, it is not an effective dispute resolution vehicle. Angry people often say words in an e-mail that they'll never utter in front of others. Such e-mails poison the air and can inflict substantial and possibly irreparable damage on the trust and collegiality that are so essential to Board decision-making. So, yes, go ahead and send reports and documents by e-mail, but don't air your dirty laundry over the internet.

Second, never assume that your e-mail will be a confidential document. Once you push the SEND button you should assume that you'll lose all control over what you wrote. Many people write contemptuous remarks and inadvertently e-mail them directly or indirectly to the parties they are deriding.

Third, keep in mind that - even if your e-mail is sent to the right person - it could potentially be accessed by the public under freedom of information legislation. So the safest assumption you can make is that your e-mail is public.

Perhaps the simplest word of caution goes like this: Before you push the SEND button, ask yourself: Would I be comfortable having this e-mail displayed over the pages of the newspaper or discussed on the six o'clock news?

If the answer to this question is NO, re-write the e-mail or wait to express your concerns directly to the individuals who could benefit from your feedback.



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Information about Eli Mina:

Eli Mina, M.Sc., PRP, is a Vancouver (Canada) based management consultant, executive coach, and Registered Parliamentarian. In business since 1984, Eli consults his clients on board effectiveness, chairing contentious meetings, preventing and dealing with disputes and dysfunctions, demystifying the rules of order, and minute taking standards. Eli's clients come from municipal government, school boards, regulatory bodies, credit unions, colleges and universities, native communities, businesses, and the non-profit sector.

Eli is the author of the newly published "101 Boardroom Problems and How to Solve Them." He is also the author of several other books and publications on meetings, shared decision-making and minute taking (see Eli Mina's Books at www.elimina.com ). Eli can be reached at 604-730-0377 or via e-mail at eli@elimina.com.


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