11002000962

Out of Line – Online!

I belong to several online networks. Recently, I got an email from one of the members whom I don’t know, have never talked to, and was never directly connected to in any way.

He sent out an email to many people in the online community about a new person who just joined. In it, he said: “Letting her join was the biggest mistake you will ever make. . . she is a disaster, is totally unreliable, is a total liar. You. . . have been. . . conned,” he concluded.

Wow, I was amazed that this “stranger” would send me this email. But the impersonal nature of online communications sometimes leads people to behave in ways they could never get away with in person! There are social mores that are easily bypassed when you are not looking someone in the eyes.

Whether you are dealing with face-to-face networking or online networking, the basics of etiquette and emotional intelligence should still apply. You have to be aware that when you are communicating on the internet you are still dealing with real people. Even though you may feel very powerful because you can say things and send it out to many people it doesn’t mean that you should or that it’s appropriate to do so!

The ignoramus who sent me this email would never have the stones to talk about this person “personally” to all the people (including strangers) that he emailed, but he could do it behind the relative safety of the internet. Unfortunately, this is one of the weaknesses of the powerful medium of the internet. If this individual behaved like this at an “in-person” meeting, he’d likely be thrown out! But online, he thinks he can get away with it. People like this become so disconnected with reality that they get this false sense of power (not to mention self-importance).

So, what do you say to someone who sends you such a totally inappropriate email? I told him that “I didn’t know the woman he was talking about but that his email told me a lot about him and that I did NOT want to get this type of slanderous communication again.” He surprised me with his response. He said that he didn’t know who I was and “he didn’t want to talk to nobodies” like me! At first I thought, “nobody, I don’t think I’m a nobody.” Then I thought, hmmm, maybe it’s a good thing to be a “nobody” to a nutcase!

Have you had experiences like this? If so, tell me about it. What did you say when you got an email like this? I want to hear your feedback.

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105 replies
  1. Craig Campana
    Craig Campana says:

    Everything is a learning experience, and I suspect this person who emailed this response to you is a new to concept of internet conversation. I think you definitely put this person in his place.

    Reply
  2. Tom Hill
    Tom Hill says:

    I have always thought that those who use the internet to destroy the reputation of others usually have some major character flaws and to compensate for these flaws they lash out against others who, do to the internet, cannot reply and defend themselves. The Good Book says if we have a problem with someone we should go to them and try to reason & reconcile with them. Many times a face to face encounter will bring about whatever change is desired without sullying the other persons reputation. There are times when we don’t see ourselves as others see us until we sit down to an honest, heart to heart talk.

    Reply
  3. Lynette
    Lynette says:

    Yes! I love this blog. I am amazed at how some people can be so caustic online. They would NEVER get away with it in person.

    Well done.

    Reply
  4. Tom Katsis
    Tom Katsis says:

    Excellent blog, Ivan. A few years ago a gifted writer said, “For those of you who didn’t think you could put a roomful of monkees in a room with typewriters and get a novel apparently you’ve not been to the internet yet”

    The person’s comments were libelous in nature and I’m glad you called him on it.

    Reply
  5. Steve Wein
    Steve Wein says:

    Right on. There are so many ways people abuse online relationships – even when a relationship doesn’t exist.

    Recently an ex-member from my BNI chapter emailed all the current members, as well as dozens of other people, with a solicitation. The solicitation was bad enough, but this person also had the bad judgment to put all the recipient addresses on the “to” line. So there was a privacy issue as well.

    Reply
  6. David
    David says:

    Any caustic & malicious behavior should be called out as unacceptable, whether it be in public or behind the ruse of a practically anonymous email. However, once reproved and that disruption to the balance of society continues to engage, it is time to move away. I believe we have an obligation to reprove this type of behavior, but it is not ours to fix it.

    Reply
  7. Mike Macedonio
    Mike Macedonio says:

    Ivan, there could be a book in this for you. What was this guy thinking?
    He joins an online network and then sends a message out demonstrating his lack of networking skills. “Word of Mouth is Always Workingâ€? It just may not be working in your favor!

    Reply
  8. Tom Doiron
    Tom Doiron says:

    Ivan, The written word has always been weak next to the spoken word because of the absence of voice inflection and body language. Over the past year I have seen this bigger than life. I got flamed for a complete misunderstanding of a post on a yahoo group. It really blind sided me because there was no malice in my post. It took me longer than I would have expected to get over the sting of the comments directed at me. As Mike has suggested, perhaps this theme could be enlarged upon for your next book.

    Reply
  9. Hazel M. Walker
    Hazel M. Walker says:

    Mr. Nobody,

    Great Post! The internet gives people a sense of security to do what they want. I am always amazed how people will use the internet and email to destroy others. I have had several BNI members who had their seats opened then use email to blast everyone in the chapter. I don’t think they even gave a thought to the fact that negative word of mouth travels a long way for a long time.

    Keep up the good work and someday you will be well known!

    Hazel Walker

    Reply
  10. hpz1
    hpz1 says:

    It is easier to talk about how to avoid these situations rather than to deal with the ramifiations once they have occurred.

    My general rule is to put in email or blog form only comments that i would be totally comfortable saying directly to the subject’s face.

    In making a remark in email always assume that the recipient could click the “forward” button and send your comment directly to the subject of the email. This is a great equalizer and will prevent inappropriate comments from pinging around the internet.

    Reply
  11. Mike R.
    Mike R. says:

    A youngster once told me …”Think before you think”. At the time I thought it was hilarious (maybe because I was his age when he told this to me). But as I get older, it really makes sense. “Think twice” has been a saying for a long time, and I believe that is really what this young scholar was trying to put forth. More e-mail participants should “think before they think” before they smear the innocent.

    Reply
  12. Ted Halone
    Ted Halone says:

    After an individual received an from me in error they replied with the worse case profanity. In return I simply replied: “sorry or any problem this has cause you.” Why would I want to sink to the level they were at. I was sorry….for their poor attitude and lot in life.
    The article is most helpful on how important it is to treat people with respect. It takes less energy and keeps out mind positive.

    Reply
  13. Gary Birdsall
    Gary Birdsall says:

    Ivan, this will be a GREAT coaching reminder about people should simply quit feeling “safe” behind the keyboard while launching these vicious attacks. This is nothing more than “electronic road rage;” and, as business professionals, we can always strive to remind folks about the need for common decency and respect in dealing with fellow human beings.

    Thanks!

    Gary Birdsall / BNI Utah

    Reply
  14. Brett Malofsky
    Brett Malofsky says:

    Great topic Ivan, although I must say that I highly doubt the commentor felt that he was put in his place or felt at all that what he did was incorrect. Email would not be a way to communicate this to the commentor as it would likely only cause further childish replies. Hopefully the email communciation ended at that point.

    Email is definitely a topic that could be expanded upon greatly in a book. The simple concept that emotion is very difficult to convey properly in an email is something that I think about a lot. Without hearing the “speaker’s” voice, it can be difficult to tell if someone is joking, serious, critical, or simply commenting. You may hear your own voice with a smile when you type something, but it may be read by someone who takes it in a completely different way.

    Reply
  15. Tony Benner
    Tony Benner says:

    Ivan, it’s amazing how some people get their kicks by assuming an unreal sense of their own importance when they are anonymously “communicating” on the Net. I don’t usually engage with them, unless I am bored. The delete button is my friend in these situations.

    Reply
  16. Solveig McCormick
    Solveig McCormick says:

    I agree with most of the above. It is so easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand. So often I have typed with a huge smile something that was intended to be playful that ended up eliciting an angry response from an offended person.

    It is a wise person who reads and re-reads and pretends he is the recipient before he pushes the send button. Email is a dangerous tool and should be handled with care.

    Reply
  17. Don Boisvert
    Don Boisvert says:

    I am always amazed by people who think that e-mail is now the only form of communications. Some things should never be sent nor said via e-mail. People should think of e-mail as an open forum to which the entire public has access. If someone has something of a sensitive nature to discuss with another, they should meet in person or use the phone.

    Reply
  18. Alice O
    Alice O says:

    Great topic Ivan. Unfortunately easy access to email without proper “training” has created numerous communication challenges.
    The one that irritates me the most, is people that forward or send email with all email addresses listed. I don’t know these people and definately don’t want them to have my email address!

    Reply
  19. Judith Palfrey
    Judith Palfrey says:

    Ivan,

    Thank you for talking about abusive email campaigns. The person that sent the email showed completely that he didn’t care to LIVE in polite society, and didn’t even know what polite meant. Hopefully there was more than ONE person offended by the attacking email.

    Email has no emotion or personality. It is very important for people to read their emails before sending them; no matter the circumstances. Emails don’t “come off” the way you expected many times and people can take what you have said the wrong way.

    It’s quite clear that the email sent to Ivan was not just painful and harmful, but in any other type of communication would have been libelous.

    I hope your blog is very successful.

    Reply
  20. Scott Toomey
    Scott Toomey says:

    Wow! Great post Ivan! It amazes me the things people will say and do behind this type communication. What most people fail to realize is they are still leaving an impression of themselves.

    I also think people forget to consider the “paper trail” that is left behind from an email like this and how easily and quickly it can be forwarded into the hands of other people. When I worked in politics we were always concerned about what may end up in the media. We lived by a simple rule…that whatever you write, type or say will end up in the media…think twice to make sure it’s the impression you want to leave.

    Reply
  21. Paul Cooperstein
    Paul Cooperstein says:

    Isn’t it funny that the more advanced we get that we forget the fundamentals of caring for each other…. in this case the modern version of do unto others which I like to think of as “Don’t make em wrong, make em strong”.

    Paul Cooperstein

    Reply
  22. Bob Schmitt
    Bob Schmitt says:

    Great message Ivan! Who hasn’t been on both sides of that issue? We have a saying in our office (but we can’t take credit for creating it) that in some situations, “EEEEmail is EEEEvil”. If you think of any email you write as possibly evil, then you’ll be very alert to what you say and how you say it.

    Reply
  23. Darrell Ross
    Darrell Ross says:

    Great idea to let the person know upfront that their behaviour is unacceptable. At least now they can’t hide behind “I didn’t realize it was inappropriate”. Over the past several years I have seen many many examples of people “saying” things via e mail that they would never say in person – and more often than not this has generated way more misunderstanding and hurt feelings and indeed damaged relationships than necessary.

    Reply
  24. Dan Georgevich
    Dan Georgevich says:

    Yes, I receive emails like this from time to time! Usually, I can feel my blood pressure skyrocket in a matter of moments! In terms of how to respond? A trick I heard about, from a friend of mine, is “Type your response, then let it simmer for at LEAST a day!” The let-it-simmer-for-a-day strategy has some merits. I’ve not responded, in kind, to enough emails like this to convince me it works! I’ve always been at a loss how to respond appropriately (especially if I don’t have a phone number to return the email with a phone call)…I like your suggestions!

    Reply
  25. Carole DiMaggio
    Carole DiMaggio says:

    Your blog could not be more timely. I agree that we need to be careful what we send via e-mail. I try to have separate groups for business contacts and other types of email. Sometimes these get inadvertantly co-mingled. Today I hit a group key unintentionally and shared a personal conversation with a group. It was not offensive, but it was a mistake I feel terrible about, and it invited comments that were shared with folks that had no interest in the subject matter. I will not only think twice, I will look twice to see who is in the “TO” box AND the “Copy” box before I press “send”.

    Reply
  26. Claudia MacDermott
    Claudia MacDermott says:

    The Internet is the new “highway.” Given that one may speak in relative anonymity and safety, the vitriol expressed is akin to road rage (with the safety of a large and fast vehicle with tinted windows.) Much was written and discussed in the media and in living rooms in recent years about our society’s problem with anger so readily expressed. The old adage “you’ve got to take the good with the bad” was never more true than now. The Internet brings the world to our doors but we wish some of the callers would never find the doorbell.

    As several postings noted, it is easy to misread what’s on the printed page. We all need to review and never hit “send” without giving it a few more minutes and another reading. To borrow something from those in the trades: measure twice, cut once. Would that everyone on the ‘net lived by those words! The information superhighway will probably always have road ragers. Yes, the delete button is our best friend.

    Reply
  27. Mike Roberts
    Mike Roberts says:

    Ivan,

    I think it was wise to end the conversation the way you did. It never fails to surprise me how brave people can become (and we all know the fine line between bravery and stupidity) when they are sitting in front of a computer. People need to remember that email is a great way to pass information, but not hold a conversation.

    Reply
  28. Sue Henry
    Sue Henry says:

    My mother taught me that you should never say anything about someone behind their back that you wouldn’t want shouted from the rooftops. It was great advice then – and great advice now and applies to all forms of communication. Ivan’s article is a great reminder to analyze our own communication skills.

    Reply
  29. Dawn Lyons
    Dawn Lyons says:

    Ivan,

    A quick story, I had a BNI member lash out at me over the dues increase in an email. I sent back a very nice email stating that if he couldn’t handle $2.91 per month that he was right, BNI probably was no longer the place for him to be, as he had threatened to quit in his email. I never heard back from him, but I did see him at a training event. I walked up to him immediately and said “I never heard back from you about the email you sent me” and he said, “Oh, I was just having a bad day and you happened to get the worst of it!”

    People have the audacity to blame a “bad day” on the words, even slanderous words, that they use in an email!

    Just goes to show you that “people dont do things TO YOU, they do things for themselves!”

    Reply
  30. Paula Frazier
    Paula Frazier says:

    I used to spend waaay too much time composing positive responses to these negative emails. I somehow thought I could get them to “see the light” with a few inspiring words.

    I learned that misery truly does love company. Sadly, the negative nellies end up bogged down in “not so nice”, counterproductive conversations tearing other people down.

    I choose to invest my time helping positive, professional people and let the Law of Attraction do its thing!

    Reply
  31. Carol Pre Paid Legal Services, Inc
    Carol Pre Paid Legal Services, Inc says:

    This is very good. I get them all the time. People think they can hind behind the net. Down grading things we do or think. I call them on it too. first they need to know what they are talking about. not just one small thing of the whole picture. Get your fact right before opening the month.
    Very good & very well done. 5 stars to you.

    Reply
  32. Lena
    Lena says:

    I actually see relatively few incidences of people behaving like complete bloody mannerless lunatics online…unless you count the comments on Yahoo News and whatnot. And yes, those are hair-raising. You’re like, “Who are these people? Where do they come from? Where are their mothers?” (I do think a high % of message board flamers are 14 year old boys.)

    But you know, if I ever am caught in virtual crossfire like you just were, I find it kind of…funny. For two seconds. Then I hit ‘delete’ and move on.

    Anyway, I really enjoy your blogs, and promise to never leave random evil messages on your boards, in email, or elsewhere. Pinkie swear.

    Reply
  33. Carrie Heath
    Carrie Heath says:

    My grandfather the carpenter taught me to measure twice and cut once. This adage is true as well with sending out missives, either handwritten (snail mail) or electronic. If you are having a bad day, reread everything before you click on send – electronic communication is forever, and you don’t want a single “bad day” to turn into a lifetime of regret.
    I have worked diligently with my teenagers over this idea, and think that every parent needs to work on “internet etiquette”, as well as employers catching their employees engaging in bad manners. Good manners aren’t just for the table, but every public, social interaction, including the relatively anonymous world of the internet.

    Reply
  34. Brian Sullivan
    Brian Sullivan says:

    I’ve had that experience–and in of all places, the official BNI Yahoo Group! When I asked for help with my volunteer-creating our chapter’s website, I got quite a lot of help from the list participants. But one fellow, a professional web designer, offered some very caustic and rude comments that were highly inappropriate and a violation of the BNI Networking Code of Ethics: “I will display a positive and supportive attitude with BNI members.” Most of the BNI Yahoo Group was quick to apologize on behalf of this person (he wouldn’t apologize on his own). And I did get the help I needed, too; but the experience had a chilling effect on my active participation in that group. I think a little longer about what sort of answers or advice I’m seeking–or offering–there now in order to avoid meeting another “ignoramus”, as you put it.

    Reply
  35. Steve Gamlin
    Steve Gamlin says:

    Great article Ivan.
    For someone to send such a message offers an eye-opening glimpse in that person’s true character. The ‘send’ button is the gateway to the soul.
    I am part of several forums due to my career(s), and am often surprised at how brave (and reckless) people get while on-line. If only life had an ‘undo’ button.
    Looking forward to future articles!

    Reply
  36. Sherry Steiman
    Sherry Steiman says:

    As I was reading these articles, I always try to look at the positive side of things. After all, you catch more flies with honey.

    I am always amazed that people can be so negative and critical of other people rather than taking a good, long look at themselves.

    However, in reading all the comments, I really appreciated Bijay Shah’s giving us all the Netmanners.com address. I didn’t even know sites like this existed. I shall share them with my BNI groups.

    Reply
  37. Debbie Tarrier
    Debbie Tarrier says:

    Love the mud-wrestling pig comment!

    As mentioned elsewhere, I had the same email and I was infuriated on behalf of the woman concerned & got into an email exchange with the guy. I then contacted the woman and was impressed with her calm response, so I just ignored him.

    Still think his behaviour was appalling!

    Reply
  38. Diane Corriette
    Diane Corriette says:

    I received that email too and I guess it says more about the man than it does about the person he spoke about.
    People DONT get away with things like that even if they are online. Its true their is a perception that they could but ultimately they damage their reptuation in a big way. PLUS if the community turn of him too then not only will it ensure he never does it again (if he should even be allowed to stay) but also no one else in that network would consider doing it either!

    Great post :-)

    Reply
  39. Gail
    Gail says:

    I did have an experience that was similar only it was from a high traffic retail website owner. He used language that I wouldn’t even think of recreating here. My mouth actually dropped open!!!!! I know that he would NEVER have talked to a customer in person the way he did me in cyberspace. I didn’t know what to do, so did nothing. Needless to say, I purchased nothing more from the site and it is now history as it no longer exists.

    Reply
  40. Lauretta
    Lauretta says:

    This brought to mind how people hide behind their computer screens because they do not have the courage to be honest in real life. They thrive on intimidation, yet the most powerful thing you can do to counteract, is to remain proactive and not reactive. Hit that delete button!! Great reading, thank you.

    Reply
  41. Jim Comerford
    Jim Comerford says:

    Being in the website design business I have considerable online communications between people (with some it is my only communication). I have seen similiar type of behavior online from people I have met off-line – Off-line they seem to be totally different people. My advice to anyone sending “passionate” emails out… is to save them, and read them again tomorrow before pressing Send – you are much more likely to reword them.

    Other issues mentioned in the follow-ups here address some “ignorance” issues. Many people dont know it is inappropriate to email soliciations, and Many people don’t know the implications of putting other people’s addresses in the TO or CC line… Please USE THE BCC line to preserve other people’s privacy. This is one area where more education is needed, and I think the younger generation is getting more of this – but many just don’t know the implication of what they do online.

    Reply
  42. Sally Ong
    Sally Ong says:

    How true what the great teacher once said, ” The mouth is the overflow of the heart” WORDS are the expression of the heart, content as well as intent.

    The person that rails and rants is showing his class. You are right on Dr Ivan, to ignore even further replying.

    Over the Internet, you can only ‘see’ glimpses of what the other person is like through their ‘words’. If they have many words, you can ‘see’ more. Even with everyone posting their ‘should and should nots ‘ in the end the 80-20 rule will apply. There will always be the 20 that will not abide by good self governing expressions.

    A good rule of thumb, if something if said, is good, spread it around. If something if said is not edifying, then apply quiet self censorship.

    A Chinese proverb says ‘ Whatever words is spoken out( in this case emailed out) cannot be taken back. So its true, we must think twice before we hit he button SEND.

    Reply
  43. Larry Schwartz
    Larry Schwartz says:

    Ivan:

    I can’t agree more. As it is, email has made it much harder to get the proper “tone” of a message across since you don’t have the face-to-face aspect of the conversation. It is even worse when people don’t clearly think through what they are saying before they press Send. I know that my experiences have led me to hold on and edit many emails before I let them get sent. What you mean to say and what other people read is often not the same.

    Reply
  44. RAY SISEMORE
    RAY SISEMORE says:

    RESTRAINT OF “PEN AND TONGUE” AND FINGERS FOR THAT MATTER. THIS SAME PERSON MOST LIKELY WILL DO THE SAME IN PERSON. I HAVE RECEIVED PHONE CALLS FROM UNSTABLE PEOPLE TOO! THE BEST THING TO DO SOMETIMES IS NOTHING. WHY FUEL THE FIRE?
    CONSIDER THE SOURCE AND MOVE ON! OR BETTER YET-PRAY FOR THIS PERSON.

    Reply
  45. Alan Seaton
    Alan Seaton says:

    email is insidious in that it allows us to disconnect from the grid, as it were, from the community of people we come in contact with in our interpersonal relationships. It’s astounding what people will say typing on their keyboard, than they would say face to face.

    Reply
  46. Bob Nicoll
    Bob Nicoll says:

    Ivan, you are so on the mark with your comments. I am continually amazed at the number of people who hide behide the cyber wall when it comes to expressing themselves. As you share, “The ignoramus who sent me this email would never have the stones to talk about this person “personallyâ€? to all the people (including strangers) that he emailed, but he could do it behind the relative safety of the internet. Unfortunately, this is one of the weaknesses of the powerful medium of the internet.”

    It is a weakness of the internet. The power of articulating your message in person or on the phone so you can experience inflection, congruency, physiology and more, is critical to maximizing the impact of both receiving the message as well as sharing it.

    Just the simple act of treating each other with “respectful elegance”–doing the next right thing in treating both ourselves and others with respect; and doing it with a bit of class, will go along way to ehancing your overall communication.

    Reply
  47. Hugo Jörgensen
    Hugo Jörgensen says:

    This topic is a relevant one but I would also include the topic to normal e-mail system at a business. I once had a manager that sent me an e-mail about an important descision I hade made in a project when I was a project manager. He argued that my descision was a disaster and that he wanted to talk to me when he came back to the office in two days. The tone in the mail was not a friendly one and I waited for the discussion. After two weeks when I had been waiting for this meeting I got another e-mail. This time he wrote that he thought that my descision was OK but my mistake was that I had not informed him before the descision.
    I also agreed that this was a mistake. But to have me waiting for two weeks for him to come and see me is not the way to use electronic communication. And the manager never had a talk with me about this issue!

    Hugo Jörgensen – Member BNI Pronova, Sweden

    Reply
  48. Rick in Decatur
    Rick in Decatur says:

    Thie article definitely gave me something to think about. While I don’t think I wuuld ever send an e-mail like that, I might have responded with an attack of my own. This oppened my eyes to the fact that could be just as bad. It is easy to get “nasty” when you are more or less anonymous. It is good to be reminded that we are dealing with flesh and blood and not just a computer screen. Thanks.

    Reply
  49. Mary Yelton
    Mary Yelton says:

    Obviously the individual has had a bad experience with the other individual. However, in the business community & even your personal life, there is a level of appropriate communication, based on your age, relationship and subject matter. It’s okay to feel strongly about someone or a topic…but presentation is everything.

    Reply
  50. David Dill
    David Dill says:

    I have worked in the construction business most of all my life . I found a great resource in BNI , as so many others have . It can be a great friend or foe, that decision is up to each individual . How a person conducts themselves in person or on the internet , shows also how they would conduct their business . Apparently this individual doesn’t get it . A wise man told me once that ignorance speaks loudest and fastest . I think this individual just proved that theory to be true .
    Keep up the great work !!!

    Reply
  51. Bruce Boord
    Bruce Boord says:

    To Ivan Misner / BNI, What if the person who the writer was refering to was a “disaster” or was Unreliable and missed multiple appointments, and had lied to you or the person you refered him to and made you look bad. To top it all off, what if the person conned their way into your networking group. Would that qualify as a reason to send such a e mail ? I think that if such a person were in our group, I would have no trouble saying so to their face and would have no trouble sending an e mail warning to all the other PNA members I care about, so they too are not conned.

    Reply
  52. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    This topic hit home. I recently created an email news list to invite women to attend a monthly Margarita night as well as indicate to the small group normally in attendance that we were changing venues to accomodate a larger group.

    After the event, one of the women in attendance felt compelled to write the entire group using my email list address to say she would prefer we meet at the original location, citing her issues with the new space.

    When I replied to her and indicated I would have preferred, out of courtesy, that she address her issues with me, she replied that she felt she had a right to correspond with all of the women and wanted to know what I had to hide! Even more surprising, after her insistence that she was in the right, she suggested we ‘move on.’

    Would she have acted this way in person or on the phone…good question because her behavior via email was arrogant and self serving and she evidently did not get that she had committed a faux pas.

    So, I moved on…and removed her name from the list!

    Reply
  53. Doug Robar
    Doug Robar says:

    While I haven’t received a similar type of email, the response you sent was right on IMHO.
    Would it be too vindictive to report the sender’s email address as spam to ISPs?

    Reply
  54. David Jacobson
    David Jacobson says:

    About 8 years ago I used to get regular emails from a friend who was away at college and replies from several of those whom he sent his emails to. Most of the emails were about what he was doing at the time and general interest. Several times a year he would send a political diatribe about some subject. As the Presidential elections were approaching there were more and more political messages and comments by the others who received the emails. Once such email I though over the edge and I replied, hoping for a rebuttle to my arguments. Instead I received personal attacks and one email to never send such “hate mail” again. Like Ivan, I thought those comments said more about the emailers and their conviction to the argument.
    I was promptly removed from any further emails.

    Reply
  55. Dan Segool
    Dan Segool says:

    It is true that people say some pretty amazing things online. I have a policy to never put anything in a business or personal email that I wouldn’t be willing to have my wife, parents, pastor or boss read publicly. On those occassions where I do have to offer some more pointed comments, I make it a point to do so in person or by telephone. It is easy to misunderstand intent in an email, and by talking and understanding where someone is coming from, it often clairifies things before they get out of hand.

    Reply
  56. Harvey S. Jacobs
    Harvey S. Jacobs says:

    Ivan: Internet bullying is not a new phenomenon, and as we have seen recently with the Meghan Meier matter in Missouri it can have tragic consequences. In the business context, your readers may be interested to learn that Title 47 Section 223 of the US Code The so-called “e-Annoyance Lawâ€? makes it unlawful to “utilize a communications device (including a computer)…without disclosing his identity and with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person who receives the communication.â€? Of course we have has defamation laws on the books for years. Just FYI. Harvey S. Jacobs, Esq. – Member BNI Rockville, MD

    Reply
  57. Jim Munro
    Jim Munro says:

    Sadly it seems that ownership of a computer and access to the internet does seem to grant some folks license to be totally inappropriate. The same thing happens when someone feels entitled to fwd whatever silly or inappropriate joke or cartoon or even worse those scary urban myths.

    Just because you have someone’s email address does not entitle you to send unsolicited or inappropriate email.

    It reminds me of the early days of the fax machine when folks felt entitled to send off color cartoons without regard to who may receive it. That type of behavior just ruins your business reputation.

    Anonymity can be a scary thing. If you are walking down the street and someone steps in front of you, you would not likely yell and scream and make obscene gestures but for some reason it is ok in a car.

    It seems that we as a culture need to spend more time face to face with each other.

    Reply
  58. Suann
    Suann says:

    This particular ingnoramus in question is probably beyond help. We all need to be particularly careful in our choice of words in print because of the lack of body language and vocal inflection which are such a large part of communication. Always re-read or even ask a collegue for a second opinion if necessary before you hit that send button.

    Reply
  59. Leissa
    Leissa says:

    I agree completely, but my comment is more of a caution when being the sender. I, personally, had a new client that I counseled and worked with for months. When it came time for her to buy a home (I am a lender); I structured the whole deal for her and she subsequently sent me an email thanking me for all my work and that she found a better rate at one of my competitors. She appeared to have no concept of her actions and that I must not mind working for free. Anyway, I felt a bit of a need to vent and went to forward the message to my assistant; adding my comments about how “clueless” this person was, etc. Much to my immediate dismay; instead of hitting “forward” I hit “reply.” The message was immediately routed not to my assistant, but to the client. I had to make a dreaded phone call and apologize profusely for my comments. It worked out okay as the client truly did not understand her actions and we ended the relationship on an okay note…but it could have gone completely the other way.

    Reply
  60. Stan
    Stan says:

    Ivan,
    Unfortunately, as a web developer I see this sort of “flame” all the time. While not entirely innocent of similar indiscretions in my years on-line, using my literary powers for “good” rather than “evil”, seems to jive better with good Karma. That said.. the offender in your story will probably die a slow, painful and lonely death. Nobody will love him, but perhaps those he has paid to do so. The laws of attraction ride the rails on a two way street. My advice to anyone who gets flamed by a “random”, don’t let it ruin your day. Don’t even reply. That gives them power. This person obviously feels threatened by something real or imaginary, but he’d do well with some therapy/anger management or perhaps the benefit of forethought would suffice.
    I think some people simply use forums and blogs as cheap therapy. They lack the funds or humility to deal with their anger issues in traditional ways and randomly lash out at anyone willing to listen. Me? I write it down, add a dramatic story line to my emotions and turn it into money. Cheap therapy and nobody gets hurt.
    SB

    Reply
  61. Joshua Putnam
    Joshua Putnam says:

    As a society we have largely lost the art of written communication. When more communication was on paper, we were more sensitive to the limits of the written word when we wrote, and when we read.

    Without that background, people treat email much like a private phone call — an ephemeral, personal communication. Email contains language that people would never use in a paper memo to the same recipients.

    If the author of that original email had felt so strongly about a new member in the days before email, he would never have expected to get results writing a string of unsupported insults. He might have written a calm, well-documented memo to the membership committee, or simply held his tongue and hoped for the best. But would have have signed his name to the screed he sent you?

    Since we can’t go back in time to paper memos for most communications, here are two tests I have used with other people who tended to send inappropriate emails:

    1. Before hitting ‘send’, read the message aloud in a clear voice, as if presenting it to a meeting. If you feel like you need to close the door before you read it, how will you feel when the recipient reads it to his coworkers, spouse, or customers?

    2. Before hitting ‘send’, print the message out and pin it to your office bulletin board. If you don’t like the idea of watching your customers, coworkers, or employer read the message, how will you feel when it gets forwarded among all your business and personal contacts?

    Reply
  62. Marsha K. Purdue
    Marsha K. Purdue says:

    Fortunately, I have never had such an experience. I believe that your opinion that the e-mail said more about the sender than the person to whom he was referring was quite apt.

    Reply
  63. Ron Ohnhaus Sr
    Ron Ohnhaus Sr says:

    I agree that principles of good etiquette must be a part of online communication, and that it can feel “powerful” to spout off in a critical manner of someone else. I also believe that we should all take our own inventory, and instead of calling the person who was the subject of this message an “ignoramus” or a “nut case,” we might do better by trying to explain the situation to the person in a more tolerant and forgiving way.

    I have received email messages of this type and unfortunately I have been guilty of responding to them in kind. I can thank a man who kindly advised me against doing this without criticizing me too harshly for my improper behavior. This allowed me to understand my mistake and correct it.

    Reply
  64. Out of Line--Online
    Out of Line--Online says:

    The response to a rude and strange person using your E-mail system can be exactly as you described, however, as a computer forensics investigator, I look at these kinds of E-mailers a little differently. I may or may not do a response depending on my analysis of the E-mail itself. I look at the encoded properties of the E-mail to see just where the person is E-mailing me from. Some of these “nutcase” people can be “found out” by just looking more closely at the E-mail technical properties.

    There can be hidden codes, masking, bots, and other hints the person is not who they seem to be. Once I look at those things, I probably would not dignify a response to the person. Responding to E-mail ID’s you to the sender, and then that strange person has “your properties” of your E-mail, and the strange person has confirmed who and where you are and what systems you are using. You have given up the technical properties of YOUR E-mail.

    It’s just another way of looking at online communications. I have done so many online investigations that I look at E-mail from a “hitech” different point of view.

    Kirk
    SCFI
    http://www.hitechpi.net

    Reply
  65. Susan Rezuke
    Susan Rezuke says:

    I loved this article. I haven’t gotten anything quite like you describe – yet. However, what I do get frequently are forwards with people’s religious and political views, assuming mine are going to be the same. Whether or not they are, I think these things are for personal discussion and it is out of line to send these out.

    Reply
  66. Pamela Manghelli
    Pamela Manghelli says:

    Great post for your blog! I have been dealing with this and related issues for years. The modern email and all of its advantages, also has its share of problems. I will share with you only two of my past experiences. One was from a woman who had no idea that she was sending out her blasting email to an entire group of people. She “said” she had inadvertently hit the ‘reply all’ button. The second instance of email abuse was one I received from a relative, bad mouthing another relative, sent out to our entire family and friends. When I responded to him on the inappropriateness of his communication, he became very defensive and began to belittle me for bringing this blunder to his attention. I never responded again. Certain things are not worth my energy or my time. My mother always told me to pick my battles carefully. She also told me that the one that protests the loudest, is usually the guiltiest.
    Keep up the great work Ivan!

    Reply
  67. Ed Owen
    Ed Owen says:

    I have been in networking since the early days of BNI and while the internet certainly affords a huge opportunity to network with people we would likely never meet otherwise, like many other of humanity’s inventions, it is prone to abuse. There are several great cures for such rudeness, they are called the delete button and his brother, the blocked email list. The same problem persists in chat rooms and other interactive, online venues (I play online poker regularly) and the idiots seem to come out of the wood work. I rarely forward emails for the same reason. If I have something to say, I prefer it be in my own words. I am only too happy to sign my name to anything I have written. Anyone who is offended by what I write is more than welcome to disagree and respond. That is why we have the Constitution and our rights under it. However, intelligent debate, however heated and passionate bears no resemblance to the slanderous and rather crude remarks mentioned by Dr. Misner. Small minds will always find a way to mutter from the shadows. It is the noble who stand in the daylight with their words before them for all to hear. Let us honor those who speak from the heart and bravely face their critics, for it is they who move and inspire others to greatness.

    Reply
  68. PB - Chagrined
    PB - Chagrined says:

    A first email from the other side of the fence here. Sometimes righteous indignation (and even anger) can lead to a public flaming that wasn’t intended.

    The marvelous BlackBerry in hand at the wrong moment receives an email from someone who has already been causing a ripple in the otherwise calm waters of ones psyche and a tempest in said tea pot arises. A hasty and heated reply is quickly sent even though the conscience is saying “Don’t send it – wait!”.

    Reply turns out to have been reply-to-all and too many people receive a copy of a less than kind message. Retractions and rebuttals wage but unfortunately feelings are hurt and damage is done. An apology won’t fix what a message sent in haste, taking but a few seconds, has injured.

    I was wrong and I am sorry, a lesson I though don’t let it happen to you. It is a lousy spot in which to sit.

    Reply
  69. PB - Chagrined
    PB - Chagrined says:

    Last paragraph above should read;

    I was wrong and I am sorry, a lesson I thought I’d learned a long time ago has been painfully refreshed. Don’t let it happen to you; It’s a lousy spot in which to sit.

    Reply
  70. Gene Sower
    Gene Sower says:

    It’s basic Business 101 that you should never slam the competition to make yourself look better. It always reflects back on you. Same thing with this guy who emailed you: now you’ve lost respect for him and anything he says afterward. This type of behavior almost always backfires.

    Reply
  71. Sue
    Sue says:

    There’s an old saying that “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it” The worst thing is to put it in writing and spread it on the internet, but unfortunately it’s all too easy and hard to call back. It always comes back to bite you. One never knows when paths will cross and when situations are reversed. That person one day could be boss. Wouldn’t that be funny?

    Reply
  72. Grace Moss
    Grace Moss says:

    I have had 2 or 3 similar experiences in the past two years or so; a fired peer who vented her anger via email to the entire company particularly stands out. I’d like to add text-messaging to the fray; we have an entire generation of young adults who are so accustomed to immediate response that they haven’t learned how to stop and think things through. If we thought kids were cruel in “our” day, text messaging and email allows cruelty 24/7/365.

    Reply
  73. Mark Hammond
    Mark Hammond says:

    I am an active member of a forum for the members of a professional body that I subscribe to. Over the last few months we have been plauged by posts and e mails from two or three members that were simply rude and insulting to other members, it does seem to be the case that people let their true self be revealed on the internet? The good news is that after having received private messages from more senior members of the forum the offending people have chosen to go and terrorise other areas of the internet.

    Thanks for an interesting and observant article.

    Reply
  74. Jasmine White
    Jasmine White says:

    Hi Ivan,
    I have found that the best response to verbally abusive emails is no response at all. Any reply just seems to fule their fire. Remember the saying that when it comes to children, “Negative attention is better than no attention at all.” To take this further as a wise phsycology teacher of mine from way back told me, “The best way to deal with negative behavior is to ignore it. Eventually they will get bored and stop.”

    Peace, Jasmine

    Reply
  75. Kevin McDugle
    Kevin McDugle says:

    Mr. Misner,
    Sometimes it is so hard not to fire back an e-mail at an idiot like the one in your story. You did well by letting him know you disagreed with his method. Dale Carnegie in his book “How to wind friends and influence people” always encourages us to love the idots but we don’t have to act like a noodle and allow them to get away with idot actions. I had a co-worker send a similar e-mail inner office about an individual who we had let go. He evidently had no regard for her at all and was slandering her to all of her former co-workers. I enjoyed this one more than sending an e-mail by confronting him face to face and letting him know I would not tolerate any such e-mail to ever be sent again even if the majority agreed with what he had to say. I reminded him that the girl we let go has kids, parents and people who very much care for her and it only hurt him by sending the e-mail.

    Have a great day!
    Kevin

    Reply
  76. Jürgen Weltzer
    Jürgen Weltzer says:

    I also got an email like the one you told. First I wanted to reply directly and very direct, but I thougt it would be better to NOT answer in a direct and emotional way. The next day I sent a email to the sender and the person, he talked about. I posted that this was his and only HIS way to see the other person – and that there a billions other points of view. And I’m glad that I do not live in HIS world.

    Reply
  77. Mr Plastic. Anders Tobiasson
    Mr Plastic. Anders Tobiasson says:

    Dear Dr Misner.
    This person really succeded in spreding his hate.
    I totally agree with Jasmine White, ignore such mails, do not spred them and do not give the sender the pleasure of attention by answering them, this will only feed the fear and hate whitin himself.

    Givers gain: Give love , gain love.

    How can I help You find your best customer in Stockholm Sweden ?

    Mr Plastic

    Reply
  78. Mr Plastic. Anders Tobiasson
    Mr Plastic. Anders Tobiasson says:

    Dear Dr Misner.
    This person really succeded in spreding his hate.
    I totally agree with Jasmine White, ignore such mails, do not spred them and do not give the sender the pleasure of attention by answering them, this will only feed the fear and hate whitin himself.

    Givers gain: Give love , gain love.

    How can I help You find your best customer in Stockholm Sweden ?

    Mr Plastic

    Reply
  79. Dermot FitzGerald
    Dermot FitzGerald says:

    Good response, people like this do not last too long.Who would ever dream of doing business with an ignoramus like that.

    Dermot – Cill Dara Chapter Ireland

    Reply
  80. Seralynn Lewis
    Seralynn Lewis says:

    I have been vey fortunate that I have not had this type of email communication in the many years I’ve been working on the internet and with email. You bring up some very valid and timely aspects of today’s “virtual” society. It’s really important to take great care in writing anything on the internet because it’s there for a very long time and anyone can google a phrase or person’s name and see everything they are involved in and or have written.

    Reply
  81. Brian Cox
    Brian Cox says:

    Just a suggestion, but I might have gone a little easier on the fellow. In our networking group, we act as ambassadors and mentors to each other. The person who sot from the hip obviously had some bad blood with the female in question. His choice of words was unfortunate, and he could be told, gently, helpfully and politely, how he might rephrase his input in the future to elicit better reception to his ideas.

    At that point the choice is his – he can take the advice and learn from it, or he can continue to step on his tongue, further showing his stripes. Etiquette goes both ways. We need it most when faced with attacks like this.

    Reply
  82. Malcolm Kyle
    Malcolm Kyle says:

    Dear Ivan

    I’m a member of the Surtees Chapter of the BNI that meets in Newcastle upon Tyne in England and happy to report that I’m consequently surrounded by very positive people.

    Maybe this quote on truth from The Buddha would help your correspondent…

    If it is not truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
    If it is truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
    If it is not truthful and helpful, don’t say it.
    If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.

    Reply
  83. Bob Johnson
    Bob Johnson says:

    Ivan
    What a misfortune to receive an e-mail of that nature. A person who would send such an e-mail has very little regard for the feelings of other people or the person he is attacking with his e-mail correspondence. There is no accounting for such bad behavior. Better to ignore him and his caustic e-mails. What an unhappy misguided person he must be.

    Reply
  84. Ciro
    Ciro says:

    Dr. Misner,
    I agree with the premise of your note. People do usually have more “stones” when posting to websites, emailing, and even while driving in the presumed safety of their car. But don’t you feel that in some way you were acting in a manner similar to what he was doing by your referring to him as a “ignoramus” and “nutcase”? I am surprised by the strong words with which you characterized him; even though they may be true.

    Reply
  85. Janet Lefler
    Janet Lefler says:

    When I receive an inappropriate EMail: I add a message “The negativity stops here.” I then Forward it to the sender only.

    Reply
  86. Tom
    Tom says:

    I doubt the caustic person cares what we or anyone else thinks, and If he does,his ego won’t let him understand what he did wrong. I am grateful though to have a chance to read this as well as other writings that help keep us all in check as we get tempted by the frustrations of the day. we all have the potential to lose control on the net. I am refreshed to here others call for calmer responses and general kindness.

    Reply
  87. Brian "The Banker" Florian
    Brian "The Banker" Florian says:

    Dr. Misner,
    I completely understand your reactions. I’ve conducted business on the Internet for roughly a decade. It never seizes to amaze me; the manner in which some people conduct themselves, online. I’ve heard/received some crazy/ insulting/ vulgar things. So I’m with you! Nutcases; stay in your basements…
    Wow- sorry. i feel better :)
    Dr. Misner- you are my hero!!!
    Have a wonderful holiday!
    Brian Florian, Lansing II ‘Notable Networkers.’

    Reply
  88. David Pettit
    David Pettit says:

    Great response Ivan, You asked for other examples of the this type and here is one that happened in 1990: I worked for a company owner repairing computers and monitors for the government and others in Okinawa, Japan. One day he needed his computer worked on, I fixed it up and tested the programs to make sure they worked. The next evening he proceeded to send me an email stating that I had “looked” at his personal files and just went on to a general tirade that he never would have done in person.

    I read the email, thought for a few moments and sent a return email that contained my letter of resignation and a thank you note for pushing me “out-the-door.”

    During the next 4-12 weeks I proceeded to start a competing company and take away 65% of his business. He was out of business 3 years later and I’ve owned businesses ever since. Never again working for a “boss.”

    Some things I’ve told my chapter members: Before you send out any email be sure to read it from a perspective that is not emotional. If you can’t, either have someone else read it or just don’t send it! Sometimes just writing it and deleting it makes you feel just as good as it would be to send it and you don’t risk a slander/liable lawsuit.

    Everyone should remember that it is a WRITTEN communication and is very easy to bring into a court.

    Dave Pettit, Denver, CO

    Reply
  89. David A. Simpson
    David A. Simpson says:

    A new member ( Accountant)of a Chapter that was failing and I went in to relaunch, sent such an abusive E Mail, threatening me personaly and BNI with Legal action due to his failure to get business in his first three months. After E Mail reply by me on the Know like and Trust theme,and the confidence curve and the fact that Accountants are one of the most highly subscribed categories in BNI, he continued threateningly, hiding behind E Mail. It was resolved by a personal visit, when in a face to face meeting the weazle man backed down, you can’t beat personal contact,his category is now filled by a positive Accountant, and guess what he has gained business in his first , it’s just attitude.

    Reply
  90. Vicky Chrisner
    Vicky Chrisner says:

    I agree, and this is very common place. It is also so easy and inexpensive (or free) to create or find web sites where people can post their own comments for the world to see. In print (like a newspaper) it is much easier for a professional or organization to legally fight back – in print or in court – when there are clearly negligent and slanderous remarks made about someone; but online it is much harder.

    I am a Real Estate Consultant. One of my clients is an apartment community. Recently, my assistant told me that on http://www.apartments.com there was negative feedback posted by (supposed) residents about that community. My assistant told me she has used this site in helping friends select rental communities, and so she thought we should tell our client about it. Based on the comments and timing, it was clear that the posts were made by an employee of the community (who is a resident) that was fired and asked to leave his apartment. Sadly, there is nothing the property manager can do. She can not post that – it is confidential information. She can not have the comments removed. What can she do.

    These types of things happen very often, and yet there is very little, if anything, that can be done. I wish more people would “consider the source” when they read things on line – especially when the source is anonymous.

    Reply
  91. Jim Donnelly
    Jim Donnelly says:

    This type of behavior is even worse in the martial arts industry. Blogs, forums, and youtube.com posts are filled with insulting, slanderous, profane and often venomous comments on the character, motives and abilities of martial artists, known and unknown. The anonymous nature of the internet allows people who, I suspect in many cases, are 98 pounds soaking wet, to insult people twice their size who could otherwise turn them into a pretzel, with impunity. Those of us in the field call these pea brains “mouth boxers.”

    Reply
  92. Robin MacRostie
    Robin MacRostie says:

    My business is telling everybody that my clients are somebody. However,in a good way, I’m with Emily Dickinson::

    I’m nobody.
    Who are you?
    Are you nobody too?

    How dreadful to be somebody.
    How public, like a frog
    To tell your name the live long day
    To an admiring bog.

    Wow, I don’t remember receiving an email even remotely like that one. I hope my response would be the same. Unless the subject is of interest, I delete most of my discussion lists. I’ve spent little time blogging, but I know how easy it is for any Tom, Dick or Harry to get one. How can anyone take someone seriously who hides in cyberspace or spend precious time on it.?

    Thanks for sending this personally and thank you Malcom Kyle for that great quote from the Buddha.

    Reply
  93. H Hsiung L.
    H Hsiung L. says:

    This is a very raw and un-polish email. It reminded us that we must not put anger and negative thought when preparing emails. This is a good example of using email inappropriately.

    Such findings should let more people know.

    Reply
  94. K
    K says:

    I have always and will always speak from the heart and if anyone takes offence to outlandishness I suggest they refrain from initiating the bull-excrement. I send person condolence to all injured parties for any direct insult. It’s difficult to not to keep up ones armor when your multible tete a tete partners are playing mind games to illicet flawed responses. I believe that anyone who hides is a liar on the most basic level. I would most definitly speak with emotion in person.. words are 20% of communication at best and “inarticulate” at best. KIND OF LIKE PAINTING WITH A PUSH BROOM. WITH THE DEEPEST REGRET AND HONEST HUMILITY. ARIES/PICESES/LEO w/a SUMEREAN CREASE AND THE SAME BIRTHDAY AS VINCENT VAN-GO!!! LOVE K-

    Reply
  95. Jeff Madsen
    Jeff Madsen says:

    I’ve allowed myself in the past to get pulled into a verbal repartee with folks like the one you describe above. It is always ill-advised and never an effective exercise in catharsis. It brings to mind a quote I read once – “Never get into an argument with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and then beat you with experience.” Take solace in knowing that people who communicate in inappropriate ways always real more about themselves than they do about their imagined nemesis.

    Reply

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