Imagine you’re a woman. (If you’re a woman, please disregard this preliminary step.) We’ll call you Rachel. (If Rachel’s your real name, then here’s something else you needn’t imagine.)
Five years ago, you married your high school sweetheart. Last year you had a baby. You and your husband constantly talk about your future together. As a couple, you couldn’t be happier. You are comfortable in each other’s company. You sense when each other needs support, or space. Life is good.
Then one day you receive an email from your husband.
As you’d appreciate, wives are notoriously more expensive than mistresses. I really need to keep costs down right now. So, I’ll be replacing you with a mistress.
She doesn’t have your experience, but she has a degree in microelectronic engineering. She was on her school’s victorious tunnel ball team. She has a ventriloquist act that’s so good you can’t even see her lips move. AND she knows how to set up email accounts (which you know was always a problem for me).
I am sure you’ll understand. Thank you for your help in the past.
A flood of thoughts wash over you.
“How could he think it was OK to write this in an email?” Surely you deserve better.
“As you’d appreciate?” Why would you appreciate that wives are more expensive than mistresses?
“She doesn’t have your experience?” But then he rattles off the skills she has that clearly impress him.
You call your girlfriends and tell them what he has written. The reactions are the same. “An email? Seriously? He thought it was OK to end it with an email?”
You decide to call him. You tell him you’re disappointed that he at least didn’t have the courtesy to talk to you. You tell him you’re shocked since just last week he was talking about how good things were going to be for you both in the future. You ask him why he thought you’d appreciate that wives are notoriously expensive.
“I didn’t say that you’re expensive.” His volume rises.
“Not directly. You said that wives are notoriously expensive. And I happen to be a wife – or I was until yesterday.”
“I’m not getting into a he said, she said argument,” he argued.
“And why was it necessary to list all the skills my replacement possesses? Am I supposed to be impressed?”
“She’s very good.”
OK, so back to your true persona. As you read this, what are you thinking? Are you OK with Jake’s action? Has Rachel over-reacted?
If you think that Jake’s actions are an abhorrent way to end a marriage, would you think differently if it weren’t a marriage, but a business relationship he was terminating?
If you reckon there’s nothing wrong with using email to end a marriage, are there things that it’s not OK to communicate via email? Or text message?
If you think Rachel over-reacted to her husband ending their partnership by email, how would you rate her response if she’d been Jake’s business partner rather than life partner?
If you think you’d have reacted as Rachel did, would you react the same way if you received a similar email terminating a long-standing business relationship?
One of the things we learn in life is the importance of choosing the right thing to say. And then we must choose how to say it.
We must understand how our audience is feeling. We must understand how our message will be received. We must choose what words to use, what tone of voice, what medium.
Sometimes when we know that what we need to communicate should be done face to face, we chicken out. We don’t want to disappoint. We don’t want to get into a discussion. We don’t want a scene.
What’s increasingly happening today is that we’re writing things that should be said. We’re sending emails from office to office, when we should really get up and walk down the corridor.
We’re writing things that shouldn’t be written. We’re posting hurtful, hateful comments on social media.
And we’re not writing the things that should be written. We’re not taking the time to hand write a simple thank you.
It takes a little longer to be thoughtful. It takes courage to speak face to face. It takes respect to know the right way to say what needs to be said. Or written.