Three Phases to Email Sensitivity


    The neurophysiological dynamics of understanding each emailmessage are very complex. From that complexity, three basicphases float to the top that you will want to becomefamiliar with. I like to label these: (1) the associationphase, (2) the connection phase, and (3) the reaction phase. Let us look at each of these, and how the writer and readercan assume a more active role.

    In the Association Phase, the sender's words are read andconverted to an image in the reader's mind, optimally thesame image the writer held in his mind. Sometimes, thewriter's words lack enough information and the recipientcannot grasp the image. The word count has nothing to dowith the creation of an image. I have read long emails thatdance around any possibility of creating an image even ifthe recipient could read between the lines.

    The first question I ask myself when receiving an email is:"Is what they are saying giving me enough information so Ican form a clear image?" If not, I ask, "Am I in an openspace at the moment to translate this image?" Sometimes, when pressed for time or there's too many thoughts swirlingin my head, the space isn't available. If not in the rightspace, I move the email to a "to be read later" subfolder, and schedule a follow-up time to reread.

    Later, after returning, and in a good space to reread, andthe image is still not appearing, I send a reply email tothe sender asking for clarity. My language usually goessomething like this: "Thank you for your email. I have readit several times and can't seem to form a clear image ofwhat you are asking. Could you please ask again in adifferent way so that I can give it my full attention andrespect it deserves?"

    It is the sender's responsibility to convert their imageinto words. The right words that the reader can transformback into the same image given. Don't take on the writer'sresponsibility, or make assumptions, it only leads tomiscommunication. If you do, the image they form of youwill be off kilter and negative.

    The Connection Phase. When writing your response, you willwant to make sure the reader receives a clear image of whatyou are sending as well.

    This means that your words need to match the return imageyou want to convey. If the topic is about apples, you donot want to add an orange in the middle of the apple image. Match apples to apples first because that was responding tothe original image.

    If you need to add an orange for topic support, place theinformation after the apple discussion in order not todistort the original image. This lets the receiver digestthe apple and then tells them that another image is about tocome. Their mind will prepare the space for the new image. When offering the orange, tell them the purpose of theorange and why you are adding the image. This way thereader knows to open a new file.

    Another question I like to ask myself, after writing andbefore sending, one you might like to use, "Will the readerbe able to file the image I'm sending in the same folderthey began with?"

    Our brains file information just as if we were droppingfiles in a filing cabinet manner.

    Instead of just telling the reader, show the reader theimage, and what folder to tuck their image in. The readeris expecting this answer. If they don't receive it, theywonder what to do with the image, it doesn't match any filein their cabinet. This splits their focus, slows down theirconnection, or can even halt the connection in toto.

    I am sure you have your own favorite topic transitionphrases; here are seven of my own. When you give thesetransition phrases a line of their own, the receiver's brainacts quickly to note an orange is coming.

    1. Let me guess what you might be thinking.2. As odd (unusual) as it may seem...3. I am not at all surprised.4. There's a story that goes with this, and I will get tothis in the next paragraph.5. Let me see if I can make this a little easier.6. Its hard to believe, but...7. In other words,...

    I find it best to begin a returning response with a "this iswhere we left off" paragraph. Don't assume the reader stillholds the previous image in their mind. They don't. Manyimages came and went during that space and the previousemail sits in their in box, file folder, or cabinet or worsedismissed due to lack of connection, in order to continuetheir processes.

    It is important to reread the email before hitting send. Not just for grammar or spelling but to see that you conveythe right image. It is the time to ask, "Did I convey theappropriate image with a file folder connection?" If yes, hit send.

    (c) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.


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