Thanks, And Thanks!

We got into a discussion the other day about proper etiquette when it comes to the ubiquitous “thanks” email in the workplace.  Put aside the fact that some people hate it, and accept that the “thanks” email needs to be sent as a matter of common courtesy — and also, by the way, to confirm that the prior email has been received and read.

rapkprhNo, the question is: should the email be “Thanks.” or “Thanks!”?  How important is it to put that ending exclamation point on your expression of personal gratitude?

Exclamation points are, of course, used to add emphasis, and can express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong sentiments.  Interestingly, exclamation points were apparently originally called the “note of admiration” — and admiration seems pretty close to gratitude.  Also, the “Thanks.” email comes across as just a little bit flat, doesn’t it?  If you’ve asked someone a question or made a request and they’ve provided you with the information or response you want, the least you can do is put a little emphasis on your expression of appreciation.  If you then ask a follow-up question and get a follow-up response, you can always go with the “Thanks again.” email on the second go-round.

I do think, however, that we need to guard against overuse of the exclamation point in workplace communications.  For example, one exclamation point is perfectly sufficient, and multiple exclamation points should be reserved only for the most extraordinary circumstances.  And let’s remember that the exclamation point should be used rarely, and it is the good old period that should be liberally employed.  Too many exclamation points make the writer seem breathless and overly excitable.

But none of that should prevent the use of the exclamation point on that initial “Thanks!” email.  As in, to all of the readers of this blog:  Thanks!

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My Email From United’s CEO

At 1:37:54 a.m. this morning, I got an email from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.  1:37 a.m.?  Geez, Mr. Munoz is one hardworking dude!

united-airlinesMr. Munoz sent me the email to apologize for the disturbing recent incident in which a ticketed passenger was dragged from a United flight leaving O’Hare in order to allow a United employee to take his seat.  Mr. Munoz says the treatment of the passenger broke United’s promise to not only “make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.”  That’s a bit of an understatement, Mr. Munoz!  Something that doesn’t square with the “deepest sense of dignity and respect” would be, say, getting wedged into a seat next to a smelly, morbidly obese guy wearing a tank top who intrudes into your personal space.  Being left bloodied and semiconscious as you’re dragged from your seat doesn’t even square with the lowest level of service or the shallowest sense of dignity and respect.

But let’s not quibble about words.  Mr. Munoz thinks the incident happened because United’s “corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values” and “[o]ur procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”  He wants the incident to be a turning point for the company, so he’s changing United’s policies.  So now, United will “no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.”   That seems like a pretty basic, but certainly appropriate, step.  United also will offer up to $10,000 to entice passengers to voluntarily rebook, and will implement a “new ‘no-questions-asked’ $1,500 reimbursement policy” for “permanently lost bags.”

Finally, Mr. Munoz wants me to know that United Airlines intends to live up to “higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate.”  The goal, he says, “should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, ‘I fly United.'”

I’m not sure I’ve ever said that I was “proud” to fly any airline — or for that matter to own any particular brand of car, or to engage in any commercial transaction with a large company.  I found the United incident unsettling, but it wasn’t going to keep me from flying United.  Let’s face it, we’ve all seen weird incidents in which overzealous people have overreacted and made really bad choices, and when the United incident occurred I figured that United employees would, if anything, overcompensate in the opposite direction and do everything they could to try to fix the company’s PR nightmare.

Mr. Munoz’s early morning email suggests that that effort is still underway.

Ending The Email Chain

There’s a colleague at my office — we’ll call him the Young Fogey — who hates being thanked.

It’s not that he thinks people should be unappreciative.  No, he just hates getting that “thanks” email that frequently serves as an awkward effort to finally bring the lingering email chain to an end.  The first email poses a question, the response seeks clarification, the next email provides it, the following email gives an answer . . . and when the process finally ends, the Young Fogey gets that “thanks.”  He hates it, because it clutters his inbox.  “You don’t need to thank me!” he thunders.

I understand the Young Fogey’s point, because sometimes email conversations can be an exhausting, protracted process.  How are you supposed to end that long email chain in an appropriate way?  Just moving on after you ultimately get the answer to your question seems kind of cold and curt, like you’re ignoring what the other party to the conversation did.  On the other hand, the closure process can be . . . ungainly.

But I don’t think we should discourage people from saying “thank you” when they’ve been helped, either.  We could always use more manners and politeness in the world, and people who routinely say thank you just tend to be more pleasant to be around.  In fact, when I get the final “thanks” email, I often respond “No problem!  Happy to be of assistance.” — which no doubt would really drive the Young Fogey around the bend.

I’m not a fan of a cluttered inbox, and sometimes it can be a challenge keeping it to manageable levels.  Those “thanks” emails, though, aren’t really the problem.  I think the Young Fogey needs to take a deep quaff of Metamucil, accept those “thanks” emails with good cheer, and reflect on the positive fact that the people he’s working with feel the need to express their appreciation for his help and insight.

Anthony Weiner Turns Up, Again

Just when you think — and fervently hope — that we’ve finally heard the last of Anthony Weiner, he turns up in the news again.  He’s the proverbial bad penny on the national political scene.

160922-anthony-weiner-featureWhen the world learned recently that Weiner was “sexting” with a 15-year-old girl, I didn’t write about it because, frankly, I think enough attention has been paid to a guy who is obviously a disturbed and narcissistic loser.  He clearly wants attention of some kind or another, so why feed the creep’s ego?  But now the investigation into Weiner’s texting with an underage girl has shaken up the presidential campaign, just when we thought it was about over.  In their investigation of Weiner, the FBI seized his laptop, as well as his iPad and cell phone — and yesterday FBI director James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating that, in that unrelated investigation, the agency found emails that relate in some way to their investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.  The New York Times is reporting that the FBI found tens of thousands of emails involving Huma Abedin, a long-time Hillary Clinton aide who is married to (and now estranged from) Weiner.

There’s not a lot of information about the emails on Weiner’s server.  Comey’s letter to Congress says only that he felt he needed to supplement his prior congressional testimony that the investigation into Clinton’s email server was completed, that the FBI has now learned of emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” that Comey had been briefed on the findings, and that he agreed it was appropriate for agents to determine whether they contain classified information.  The letter concluded that the FBI can’t yet assess whether the emails on Weiner’s laptop are significant, or when the FBI will finish reviewing them.  

So we don’t know much about the emails right now and, given the pace of the FBI’s prior investigation, we probably won’t know much more until after the election is over — which is why some people are criticizing the FBI director for calling attention to the issue at all.  The disclosure obviously roiled the presidential campaign at a crucial time, with less than two weeks to go.  I would note only that I appreciate the fact that the FBI director obviously takes his obligation to truthful in his testimony to Congress so seriously.

I’m not going to speculate about what might, or might not, be found in the emails.  I’m just going to groan at the fact that we have to hear about Anthony Weiner, again — and hope that we don’t learn that this creepy, apparently sex-obsessed jerk had any kind of significant national security information on his laptop.  Anthony Weiner is about the last person I’d want to have access to sensitive information.

Another Email Fail

You’ve no doubt heard people lecture that you shouldn’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the New York Times.  Colin Powell is the newest living proof of that statement.

rtr237zj-1024x682As, indeed, the New York Times and others have reported, Powell has confirmed that his emails were hacked and have been released to the world.  They’re pretty sensational reading, too, as a chatty Powell candidly expresses his opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and others.  Powell thinks Trump is a racist, an international pariah, and a national disgrace, he thinks Hillary Clinton is greedy, sleazy, possessed by unbridled ambition, and unfairly dragged him into her own email scandal, he thinks Bill Clinton is cheating on his wife with “bimbos,” and he thinks Cheney is an “idiot.”  Colin Powell apparently is something like “Mikey” in the old TV commercial for Life cereal:  he has disdain for everybody.

Powell’s comments are so pointed that the Washington Post has a story just about the “juiciest” comments in his hacked emails, and USA Today has a piece about the “top insults” in Powell’s emails.  I’m sure dinner parties inside the Beltway are buzzing with talk about Powell’s unvarnished views about the high and mighty.

I feel sorry for Powell, that his personal email was hacked, but I’m also amazed that he would share such candid views in emails, without appreciating that once you send an email, you totally lose control over it and have no way to prevent it from being shared, far and wide — or hacked.  I guess he’s not as sophisticated as I thought he would be.  And there’s no doubt, too, that the leaked emails will affect people’s perception of Powell, who has projected the image of being an above-the-fray, statesman-like national figure.  Now we see that he’s as gossipy as a high school kid and not above throwing around crude words for sexual relations.  The emails certainly contradict his carefully cultivated public image and suggest that under that placid demeanor seen on news shows there lurks a brimming volcano of acidic opinions about other national figures.

It’s a good lesson, though, for those of us whose emails aren’t going to make headlines like Powell’s did:  Think about whether you really want to have that email out in the world at large before you hit “send”!

Breeding Like Email

Several months ago, Kish and I went to Williams-Sonoma to buy some cookware.  We were happy with our buying decisions, but some of what we wanted needed to be ordered and shipped.  The clerk asked if we would like to have updates on the status of the shipments emailed to us.  I thought about it, reasoned that we would want to know when the deliveries were being made so the packages wouldn’t be sitting out on the front step for hours, and gave the clerk my email address.

Big mistake!

IMG_0075Sure, we got the updates on the delivery status of our packages, and it was useful.  But then Williams-Sonoma starting sending all kinds of emails about special offers and, more recently, the availability of holiday shipping and last-minute purchases.  And then we started getting similar emails from Pottery Barn, west elm, and now, Pottery Barn Outlet and Pottery Barn Kids, even though I’ve never set foot in any of those stores or visited their websites.  In short, the junk email appears to be breeding.  Maybe Williams-Sonoma has some kind of agreement with west elm and Pottery Barn where they sell or exchange personal information about their purchasers, reasoning that a Williams-Sonoma customer might just turn into a Pottery Barn customer — or a west elm customer, although I have never heard of west elm or any have no idea what they sell.  Tree-related goods, perhaps?

Now, whenever I check my email, the painful first step is to go through all of the unsolicited email I’ve received from these businesses.  I never open them and read them, just check the box and hit delete.  It only takes a few minutes, but it never ceases to irritate me because it’s a few minutes I won’t get back.

I sometimes wonder whether it would be better to simply respond to the emails and start the process of being removed from the mass email rosters.  I haven’t done so because I’m afraid all that effort will accomplish is confirm for the businesses that they have a good, live email address and that the unlucky person getting the emails is reacting to them.  So, while I might ultimately be removed from their email lists — after whatever protracted process is required — my email address will end up being sold to the world and the unwanted emails in my inbox will breed still further.  So, I just stew and hit delete, hoping that after months of no response the emailers will just give up.

I’m guessing that’s a vain hope.

Deleters Versus Retainers

They say that opposites attract.  It must be true, because Kish and I are complete opposites in one very important modern characteristic.

I am a dedicated email deleter.  She is a confirmed email retainer.

We get along well despite this significant difference in our approaches to modern communications.  It’s just one of those distinctions and behavioral quirks that we ignore in furtherance of the greater good and the ultimate goal of happy household harmony.

IMG_7439In reality, I try to avoid even looking at Kish’s email box when its on our home computer screen, because it usually provokes a grim sense of horror.  Even a casual glance tells me that her inbox is chock full of obvious deletion candidates, like that Williams-Sonoma solicitation for us to buy high-end knives — one of dozens of Williams-Sonoma emails that we’ve received since we bought some cookware there a few weeks ago and reluctantly agreed to track the delivery of our order on-line.  (Sigh.)

In my in-box, such unrequested solicitations and other junk emails would be identified, highlighted en masse, and deleted immediately, with great relish.  But in Kish’s emailbox they are examined, and then . . . accumulate and remain, apparently forever.  She is a gentle soul at heart, and no doubt is pained at the thought that whoever sent the email might be troubled by a quick deletion — especially a deletion without even being read.

I like the idea of keeping a crisp, limited in-box, so that the important emails aren’t mixed in with a bunch of crap and unable to be promptly located amidst the clutter.  And, candidly, I enjoy the little thrill of accomplishment that comes from highlighting and deleting an entire screen of junk and then hitting the garbage can icon.  It gives me the same sense of control and glow of basic achievement that also comes from rinsing off the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, putting them in the dishwasher, and wiping off the counter, or sweeping off the back patio to remove the debris falling from the trees overhead.  “Begone, solicitations, and Twitter announcements, and Facebook notifications!,” I think.

I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to experience the joys of regular email deletion — but I guess such differences make the world go round.