Only Cowards Hide Behind Their Keyboard

by Kevin G. Armstrong

Are you a coward? Before you respond, “No, of course not,” consider a couple of scenarios.

When a customer sends you a complaint via email, do you argue with her by firing back an email? When you want a colleague to know that you object to his behavior in a meeting, or at an event, do you type out a nasty email or text message, hit the send button, and then run off?

I started using email 26 years ago. Although I have been guilty of sending what I thought were highly intelligent yet stinging emails, I can’t think of one time where anything positive resulted from the message. In 26 years of observing email, texting, and other impersonal communication mediums develop, I worry a lot about our ability to communicate.

I often speak to audiences of 500+ people. After quickly reviewing the great advances in the digital devices that were designed to help us better communicate, I will ask members of the audience to raise their hands if they feel we, as a species, have improved at communicating with each other. Time and time again, not a single hand is raised.

After two decades of working exclusively with business owners and their management teams, I have come to the conclusion that most important issues cannot be resolved through the written word.

Most important issues cannot be resolved through the written word. Click To Tweet

Have you ever been copied on a back and forth between two parties having a disagreement though email, and then called them into your office—or called them on the phone—and found that you resolve the issue in less than two minutes? One of my clients, Rick Boates at Unitech Construction Management, has a “one bounce rule.” If you communicate something by email and anyone—including a team member, customer, or supplier—sends a response by email disagreeing, you bring them into the office, or call them directly on the phone.

Email and texting are great mediums for proposing, confirming, suggesting things, or asking simple questions. “We are having a meeting at 3:30pm, can you make it,” or “Will the delivery arrive Thursday or Friday,” or “The agreements per our discussion are listed below.”

But sending an electronic message such as, “I’m not happy with the way you hung me out to dry in the meeting this morning,” signals a lack of courage. Unless the person you are addressing comes and has a conversation face-to-face or calls you, both the issue at hand and the relationship move into a downward spiral. And just like a plane in a downward spiral, the result is going to be ugly unless one party musters up the strength to pick up the phone, or sit down face-to-face, to rescue the relationship.

So before you hit the send button, ask yourself if the message being sent could be interpreted in any way as criticizing, negative, or objectionable. If the answer is anywhere close to “yes,” have the courage to set up a meeting. Stop hiding behind your keyboard.

For more on effective communication, watch my short video below.


Kevin G. Armstrong is a speaker, business advisor, disruptor, and author of The Miracle Manager: Why True Leaders Rarely Make Great Managers with ForbesBooks. Learn more at kevingarmstrong.com.

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