You’ve Got Mail! by
50
(94 Stories)

Prompted By My First Computer

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It was 1992, and I had just started as Medical Director at La Clinica de la Raza.  For the previous dozen years I had been a family doctor there, and worked hard to get the union recognized, which didn’t endear me to administration.  When they reluctantly took me on as management—long story–the transition was a bit rocky.

There was a phone with buttons for hold and intercom, and a blocky computer console sitting squarely in the middle of the desk.  I think it was a Dell.  The font was clunky and there were no graphics.  This was my first computer. 

I now had a day a week for administration responsibilities with, some would say, “the dark side”.  The role of medical director was still in its infancy and the demands ballooned rapidly, but there were a few  perks.  Instead of sharing cramped counters in the charting rooms, I now also had an office of my own, up on the second floor above the women’s clinic.  Just enough space for a desk and file cabinet.  There was a phone with buttons for hold and intercom, and a blocky computer console sitting squarely in the middle of the desk.  I think it was a Dell.  The font was clunky and there were no graphics.  This was my first computer.

Computers were used in registration, but were not widespread, and there was very little internet capacity.  Now I had not only a word processor of my own, with a shared printer down the hall, but joined the very elite few in administration with access to e-mail.  Of course, I couldn’t communicate with most of the rest of the clinic electronically, since they did not have computers at work, let alone at home, but I could send messages to other administrators.  Fortunately, my mother had made me take typing in high school (“just in case” I needed something to fall back on I could always be a secretary), and the friendly nerdy sole computer guy on staff helped with technical advice, so I blundered my way forward.

Early on, the planning director sent me an e-mail.  I was upset when it accused me of some misstep that seemed like a total mischaracterization of a conversation, and I felt compelled to respond in great detail, refuting her points.  She responded in kind, with cc’s to others, and it escalated into a full-blown e-mail confrontation.  This was a new experience, and not a good one.

As it happened, my office was part of a small warren of tiny rooms in that upstairs space, located off a narrow corridor.  Crammed together in respective offices were the rest of top administration–the planning director, operations officer, finance director and executive director.  After receiving the latest blast, it occurred to me that e-mail war was a loser all around.  I opened my door and walked to the neighboring office to speak with my opponent in person.  It was the right thing to do and it put an end to the tit-for-tat thread.  I learned some valuable lessons– to be more careful and guarded in communications, especially in writing, and to address conflict in person right away.  Welcome to management.

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You learned a valuable lesson, Khati, and one that I always try to remember: once something is in writing and sent via email, you have lost control of it. It can be forwarded to anyone, blind copied anywhere. It happened to me with a TYPED letter to a client, and the VP of my region told me to be careful what I committed to print. Email is SO much worse. Happy to hear that you got offline and talked to the person instead.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    A fascinating story, Khati. And, of course, I resonated to your title. That said, I had a very opposite result of emails vs. face-to-face meetings early in my career (and thus early in the email era).

    When I was a junior lawyer, we had a very difficult General Counsel who was more interested in covering his *ss than anything else and he consistently complained to all his minions, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” In response, one of my smarter peers, following any substantive discussions with the Boss, would then send him an email summarizing the discussion, even though he knew the Boss would probably not read it. So, the next time the Boss yelled “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” at him, he simply pulled out a copy of his email and replied, “Well, actually, [Boss], I did.” We all soon followed this practice and the complaints stopped. The emails were a complete waste of everyone’s time and resources, but they worked, where mere conversations would not have. (The Boss was subsequently fired, but not due to anything we minions did.)

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Excellent point John. Documenting a conversation is another valuable management tip, not to be confused with e-mail wars or rash written statements or trying to figure out how to manage the personalities you have to deal with. The power of the pen can be mighty, and I took advantage of it preparing minutes and newsletters that documented that people HAD been told about what was going on too. It sure can be tiring having to be responsible and adult all the time, but someone has to do it.

  3. Good Khati that you walked down the hall to confront her in person.

    And a reminder that CC’s can be deadly.
    Although in your story they were deliberate, I’m sure we all can remember accidentally hitting REPLY ALL, or not deleting part of a thread before hitting FORWARD..

    I once had dealing with someone named Tom and sent a very sensitive email to the wrong Tom, but that’s another story!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Oh yes. The deadly “reply all” error. Yet another reason to be circumspect in all communications—especially written. You never know who will be reading them. Of course if you are Tony Ornato, you can just “routinely” erase troublesome communication histories.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    You are so right, Khati. Email and texts can easily escalate into misunderstandings and worse. Nothing beats eye to eye contact or at least a phone conversation. Now if I could only convince my kids and grandkids that phone calls are still a good thing.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, even if you try to call, no one answers the phone. Easier to communicate by text. But the face-to-face or voice-to-voice is special indeed and probably hard-wired in all of us as something we need to thrive. Hope you are enjoying some of that over the holidays!

  5. Suzy says:

    Good story, Khati, and glad you figured out that communication in person could solve a problem in a way that email never could. So easy to misinterpret the written word, when you don’t have facial expressions or tone of voice to go by. Guess we all learned that eventually, sometimes the hard way.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      A lesson we sometimes have to learn over and over ha ha. It is impressive that Retrospect has been able to manage so well through the written word, although I think the glue may be strongest with those who have met in person. Too bad we don’t have more opportunities for that.

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