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September 3, 2012 / Richard Bass

Resources and Comments in Response to “Is E-mail the New Parking Lot?”

Susan Nienaber’s article, “Is E-mail the New Parking Lot?” (the September 3, 2012 Alban Weekly), narrates a few situations in which reliance on e-mail can backfire—particularly when e-mail is used to handle contentious situations.

Her article also explains five characteristics of e-mail that make it a poor choice for conflict resolution: (1) it’s impossible to read or respond to other people’s non-verbal body language; (2) uncertainty surrounding the time when others receive a message contributes to confusion and anxiety; (3) e-mail messages are more one-sided than spoken ones, making miscommunication more likely; (4) e-mail is not confidential; and (5) important conversations require “richer and fuller” interaction than is available through e-mail.

What resources can help open up fuller communication, especially in the face of conflict? In addition to the items listed at the end of the article, please consider the following: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Second Edition); The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results; and Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Tenth Anniversary Edition).

What are your stories and thoughts on this topic? And what resources do you suggest? We look forward to hearing from you.

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3 Comments

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  1. virginia stewart / Sep 3 2012 1:42 pm

    The church has to learn to communicate with church members in 2012. I can not count the number of times that I have read and or been emailed this same point of view.

    We can only go forward not backwards. Can we move on?

  2. L / Sep 3 2012 11:30 am

    Well said, Susan.
    There are a several of other situations where I’ve found email to be a helpful tool for things that would be unlikely or difficult to be said in conversation.

    Email can be used to communicate to someone how much you value them and the relationship with them, and why (whether you’re in conflict with them or not). While this might be better said in person or by phone, it’s not easy to do so and can make the listener uncomfortable. Email provides the recipient with something they can read and refer to again and again.

    Secondly, while email can create misunderstandings, it can also be used to help repair them. Crafting an appropriate apology can take time and space, and an email thoughtfully constructed after the fact can be useful, especially where phone or in-person conversation might be too charged. This sort of asynchronous communication can help diffuse emotions by not requiring immediate response.

    As online tools proliferate, options and considerations for communicating continue to expand.

    Linda Rich
    Alban Consultant

  3. Judith Gotwald / Sep 3 2012 8:57 am

    The parking lot meetings are not the problem. Email rants are not the problem. They are the symptom. The inability of the Church to effectively deal with two-way communication is the problem.

    The Church must learn to deal with open dialog for perhaps the first time since the Reformation. Differences of opinion in the Church in that era were clumsy by today’s standards. Even so, the Church was forced to deal with dissent. Life was made miserable and short for a few, but the power of the pen changed the Church for the better.

    Today’s “parking lot” meetings are signs of frustration that individual voices cannot be heard in the “discernment” process—which truth be told, is frequently a process of getting people on board with a pre-“discerned” plan. There were probably many parking lot meetings, water cooler meetings and more private meetings among clergy which escaped the label. It’s the conversations that the Church can’t control that get the labels.

    Email, blogs and modern media of many kinds put communication tools in everyone’s hands. If you disagree, with an email you get, send your own.

    Within the last year, I received long ranting threads on two topics that were distasteful and unfair. Dozens of people had participated. In both cases, Both threads ended on their own with minimal damage because people responded asking for reason.

    One conversation was attacking an individual’s viewpoint that she posted before she had all the facts. When the angry emails started flying, she wrote a moving apology and still the rants came. They became tools to direct internet traffic to writers’ own blogs at the expense of someone who had already apologized. Then someone posted a comment: “Why are we still beating up on a colleague after she has apologized?” The thread stopped in its tracks. The woman wrote a heartfelt thank you letter and sent it privately.

    In another instance, a self-serving thread was trying to solicit comments for the sake of comments. The writer invited online criticism of someone else’s web site. Some fell for the bait, but two people wrote, delicately suggesting the entire conversation was rude. The initiator of the conversation responded with a smart online voice. But then some offline communication took place. Someone contacted the writer privately and pointed out the impropriety. An apology was added to the thread and the person who started the conversation removed it from the web.

    Everyone can take part in the conversation today.

    The Church has to learn to deal with it. It will be good for the Church. It may bring the changes we so desire.

    The last thing the Church needs is a lot of disgruntled people sitting silently in the pews — or staying home, but that’s what many are content to have as long as they can control the dialog.

    We are all learning to use these new tools. If we don’t use them, others will!

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