Call it premature-send syndrome: There you are in full, productive e-mail flow—clicking, replying, sending—wait, back up, sending
? And there's your (unbelievably catty, excruciatingly self-incriminating) message dinging in the in-box of exactly the wrong person. Even when the message is harmless, e-mail tends to wick away the warmth and nuance you'd have delivering it face-to-face—often leaving your intended meaning to get lost in translation. Mirabai Bush, a senior fellow at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in Northampton, Massachusetts, teaches a mindful e-mail exercise to employees of corporations like Google; the goal is to make their exchanges more thoughtful and less likely to misfire. Bush suggests trying these simple steps five to 10 times over the following week:
- Compose your e-mail.
- Stop. Take one long, deep breath, counting to five on the inhale and again on the exhale.
- Think of who you're sending your message to, and of how you want him or her to receive it. Could this person misunderstand and become angry or offended? Or think that you are being more positive than you intend?
- Look at the e-mail again.
- Change it if appropriate.
"When I stepped back and thought about my e-mail before I sent it," one of Bush's students reported, "twice I picked up the phone instead. In each case, a relationship issue was involved and it was better to talk through it."