Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Netiquette IQ - The Worst Type of Email - Can You Guess What It Is?


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FYI, See Below
The purpose (and the sorrow) of the worst kind of email—the passive-aggressive forward
Ian Bogost Nov 24 2014, 12:45 PM ET TheAtlantic.com

Email is the worst, but some emails are worse than others. The worst emails are forwards. And the worst forwards? Not the jokes your uncle sends you from his AOL account, but the ones your boss or your coworkers send along from some obscure corner of Administrivistan.
Most work emails are purely defensive missives. They seek to shift effort, hide omissions, or provide cover against future blame. Emails simulate work: Rather than getting something done, you create a futures market for excuses and rationales for not getting them done. Thanks to precarity, the modern workplace demands the construction of layers of protective virtual ramparts to shield the worker from possible future reproach.
Email has become the primary brick out of which such fortresses are fashioned. An email is a one-sided agreement made in secret. Once sent, it takes on the air of accord. This is why “Didn’t you get my email?” is a workplace trump card. “Hey, I did my part. It’s not my fault if you dropped the ball.”
The corporate email forward is meant to transfer the obligation to act from one agent to another.
Somehow, this logic persists even despite the tragedy of the commons it produces. When everyone sends CYA emails in their own interest, nobody has time even to scan them all to separate the signal from the noise. And so email has become the Sisyphean drudgery we know so well: digging through the piles of chaff on the off chance that an edible seed might have been left behind.
Amidst this dour situation, a special type of email emerges: the corporate forward. Unlike the forwarded joke, which your uncle actually means for you to read and enjoy along with him, the corporate email forward is meant to transfer the obligation to act from one agent to another.
Some email forwards make specific requests and thereby consummate delegation. Your boss forwards a request and asks you to deal with it. A colleague doesn't know the answer to a question or a problem and sends it on to a specialist who might be able to help. A traffic manager in finance or procurement sends on a form or an inquiry in need of completion. These are the workhorses of the forward, and for all the irritation they cause, they do so in earnest.
But a special variety of email forward always acts malignantly, as passive-aggressive labor. There are two versions of this email, best identified by the one-line, one-phrase message bodies that precede the forward itself: FYI, and See below.
The gentler and more ambiguous of the two is the FYI. A forward preceded by FYI might, in fact, be passed along “for your information.” A heads up about an upcoming event or deadline, or a new insight into the status of a deal in the works. FYI almost means it.
It doesn’t really matter what the forward actually includes. It could be a request from a customer or client or boss or co-worker. It could be an invitation to a meeting or an event or a conference call or a webinar. It could be a notice of a policy or a change in procedure.
The purpose of the forward is not to share the information contained below the fold—what linguists and philosophers call a locution, that is, the actual meaning of the phrase uttered—at least not primarily. Instead, the forward works as a perlocution, an utterance that hopes to get an interlocutor to do something without explicitly asking for it.

This is what the corporate forward does. FYI says “for your information,” but it means something else. The possibilities are endless, but might include unspoken messages like “I told you so and hereby demand your contrition” or “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I might blame you if you do it wrong later.”
The granddaddy of perlocutionary email forwards is See below. When a forward comes with this prefix, it carries all the weight of FYI with the additional baggage of clear but unspecified obligation. FYI might or might not make an implicit request or demand, but See below always does.
The thing is, the best See belows never quite reveal what they are after, even if it’s clear they are after something. This is why it’s so infuriating to receive a See below. What does this email want from me? Sometimes it’s clear—a specific request in the forward itself, for example. But more often, the See below email purposely refuses to make such a request or demand clear.
See below offers the ultimate version of precarity-induced prevarication: It forces the recipient to make a move rather than the sender.
Why? Ultimately, the power of the corporate email forward comes from the fact that its contents go unprocessed. Rather than make direct requests, we obfuscate. We prevaricate. As with driving, the best way to work today is defensively: Insure you can never be put in a position where your words, deeds, or ideas can be traced back and used against you. See below offers the ultimate version of precarity-induced prevarication: It forces the recipient to make a move rather than the sender.
So, what to do with emails like FYI and See below? You can’t ignore them; sending an email always trumps letting one go unanswered (or even unseen). Unfortunately, the only move left is to respond, but play dumb, asking your interlocutor to clarify what, precisely, is the relevance of the enclosed “information” in the FYI, or which aspect of the material below in the See below requires action—and what type of action, as long as we’re at it. (Or maybe, if you’re really feeling punchy, you could respond with nothing more than a link to this article.)
Of course, such tactics are too time-consuming and soul-crushing for most of us to perform on the one hand, and they just perpetuate the scourge of corporate email culture on the other. But one dubious hope does remain. Perhaps we’ll finally reach the point when the only thing worse than losing your corporate job on account of not playing the passive-aggressive game is having to work that job in the first place.
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In addition to this blog, I have authored the premiere book on Netiquette, "Netiquette IQ - A Comprehensive Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email". You can view my profile, reviews of the book and content excerpts at:
 www.amazon.com/author/paulbabicki
 If you would like to listen to experts in all aspects of Netiquette and communication, try my radio show on BlogtalkRadio  and an online newsletter via paper.li.I have established Netiquette discussion groups with Linkedin and  Yahoo I am also a member of the International Business Etiquette and Protocol Group and Minding Manners among others. I regularly consult for the Gerson Lehrman Group, a worldwide network of subject matter experts and I have been contributing to the blogs Everything Email and emailmonday . My work has appeared in numerous publications and I have presented to groups such as The Breakfast Club of NJ Rider University and  PSG of Mercer County New Jersey.

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Netiquette IQ Quotation of 11/26/14

 In my book (discussed below ) and this blog, I have discussed words and phrases which inherently often lack a sincere tone. Many of these are trite or taken for granted. One of the worst is the phrase, "to be honest with you". Does this mean you are not always honest or were not so recently? Good Netiquette seeks to avoid these types of words and phrases and you should as well!
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“Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true.”
Emma Donoghue
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In addition to this blog, I have authored the premiere book on Netiquette, "Netiquette IQ - A Comprehensive Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email". You can view my profile, reviews of the book and content excerpts at:
 www.amazon.com/author/paulbabicki
 If you would like to listen to experts in all aspects of Netiquette and communication, try my radio show on BlogtalkRadio  and an online newsletter via paper.li.I have established Netiquette discussion groups with Linkedin and  Yahoo I am also a member of the International Business Etiquette and Protocol Group and Minding Manners among others. I regularly consult for the Gerson Lehrman Group, a worldwide network of subject matter experts and I have been contributing to the blogs Everything Email and emailmonday . My work has appeared in numerous publications and I have presented to groups such as The Breakfast Club of NJ Rider University and  PSG of Mercer County New Jersey.

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