Chaco Canyon Consulting

Where There's Smoke There's Email


Essays about email communications in problem-solving organizations

A book of essays about what can go wrong with email communications in problem-solving organizations — and what you can do about it


Have you ever Skip to the Details: How To Orderreceived a "Tweaking CC?" A tweaking CC is a message sent to a subordinate by a third party, CCing you, to embarrass or pressure your subordinate. Or it could be sent to a colleague, CCing you, for similar reasons. By bringing you into the conversation to expose supposedly ineffective or delinquent behavior, the sender hopes to modify that person's behavior.

The tweaking CC is usually counterproductive. It wastes the time and emotional energy of all senders and all recipients. It is but one of the myriads of ways that email has become the bane of the modern workplace. Would you like to know how to get them to stop? Read Where There's Smoke There's Email. You'll also learn how to deal with so-called "flame wars," internal spam, and that most corrosive practice, typing while angry.

Where There's Smoke There's EmailI'm certain that the dozens of counterproductive email practices will expand as time goes on. Still, Where There's Smoke There's Email covers the ground as we know it today. It even includes an essay on the ethics of email, which discusses the new ways email enables the unscrupulous to transgress on the rest of us.

What's in this book

Here's the table of contents.

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1 Email Happens
Email is a wonderful medium for some communications, and extremely dangerous for others. What are its limitations? How can we use email safely?
2 Email Antics
Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas.
3 Avoid Typing Under the Influence
When we communicate, we can't control how other people interpret our communications. Accidental offense is inevitable, and email is especially likely to produce examples of this problem. What can we do as members of electronic communities when trouble erupts?
4 The Tweaking CC
When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by exposing embarrassing information.
5 Dangerous Phrases
When I upgraded my email program recently, I encountered some problems with a new feature that monitors messages for offensive words. This got me thinking about everyday phrases that do tend to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
6 When It Really Counts, Be Positive
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
7 Corrosive Buts
When we discuss what we care deeply about, and when we differ, the word "but" can lead us into destructive conflict. Such a little word, yet so corrosive. Why? What can we do instead?
8 Email Ethics
Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil the society. And so it is with email.
9 It Might Be Legal, but It's Unethical
The demand for higher standards of ethical behavior for corporate officers is probably just the beginning. As a society, we're re-learning the value of honesty, and many more of us will have to come to a new understanding of ethics. Some professions have formal codes of ethics, but most don't. What ethical principles guide you?
10 When Naming Hurts
One of our great strengths as Humans is our ability to name things. Naming empowers us by helping us think about and communicate complex ideas. But naming has a dark side, too. We use naming to oversimplify, to denigrate, to disempower, and even to dehumanize. When we abuse this tool, we hurt our companies, our colleagues, and ourselves.
11 High Falutin' Goofy Talk
Business speech and business writing are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with pretentious, overused images and puff phrases of unknown meaning. Here are some phrases that are so common that we barely notice them.
12 Message Mismatches
Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message mismatches.
13 Caught in the Crossfire
You lead a company, a department, or a team. When two of your reports get caught up in a feud, what do you do? Let them fight it out? Order them to stop? Fire them both? Here are some tips for making a peace.
14 You and I
In tense discussions, the language we use often contributes to the tension. If we can transform the statements we make about each other into statements about ourselves, we can eliminate an important source of tension and stress.
15 Feedback Fumbles
"Would you like some feedback on that?" Uh-oh, you think, absolutely not. But if you're like many of us, your response is something like, "Sure, I'd be very interested in your thoughts." Why is giving and receiving feedback so difficult?
16 Emailstorming
Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most of us would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?

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