Susan Nienaber of Alban Institute wonders if email has become the new "parking lot?"
You may be familiar with—perhaps even have participated in—"parking lot meetings." Those unofficial conversations (often held in parking lots following official meetings) that tend to undermine decisions, complain about individuals, and stir up discontent. They are extremely effective forms of communication, but they are not always helpful. In some important ways, e-mail has become the new "parking lot meeting. It spreads information (accurate or not) quickly and widely, it is impossible to stop, and it can be very damaging.
When conflict occurs she notes:
There are many things to be learned from [my] experiences, but one of the most important is:
E-mail is not a conflict resolution tool.
E-mail appears to be fast, almost immediate, communication, when in fact the length of time it takes to deliver a message depends largely on the recipient's personal habits.
Because e-mail language is often less formal than traditional written language, it feels much more like talking on the telephone, except that it is a one-sided conversation.
E-mail is not confidential.
E-mail is not a constructive venue for important conversations.
Having said all of this, are there times when I actually encourage a pastor, lay leader, or member of a congregation to use e-mail or a letter to deal with an issue? Of course, I do. A letter or an e-mail is very appropriate when you need clear documentation of a decision or action. It is also useful if someone is actively attempting to misrepresent you and your views, but think through this scenario carefully first.
And, another word of encouragement: Just as a well-placed challenge, or a word of optimism can turn a parking lot meeting into a productive, constructive conversation, used carefully, the Internet can be helpful in conflicted situations.
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