E-mail Escalation: Dispute Exacerbating Elements of Electronic Communication

HBS Working Knowledge points to an interesting paper on how E-Mails impact the process of conflict management and how the best way to resolve a dispute is to pick up the phone or just walkover and resolve the dispute face-to-face.

Why is it that e-mail emboldens people to new heights of rudeness, combativeness, and off-the-cuff stupidity? Why do small conflicts escalate into huge problems when e-mail is involved? Those questions are asked and answered in this paper by conflict expert Ray Friedman, a professor at Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. Friedman says that when we meet face-to-face, disputes are often safely negotiated thanks to our ability to interpret voice intonations, physical mannerisms, and facial expressions. That context is missing as we sit isolated in front of our computer launching pointed digital missives, which no amount of symbols can blunt. The answer? Handle your disputes by walking down the hallway and talking them out.