Communicating Mindfully Through Email


Everywhere I look my daily life offers opportunities to become more mindful, present, aware, and responsive.  Everyday “mundane” tasks unfold in front of me, and I see the opportunity to serve them vs. how reactive and ultimately unmindful I have approached these interactions with life.

One of those daily interactions, my attention was drawn to recently is email.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized just how reactive and quick I am to write or respond to emails while never considering in great detail, the other person at the end of my email.  Emailing has been driven more by a desire to knock something off my list and get the answers to the questions I had so I could move on.  As Eckhart Tolle would say, my action of writing emails so often have been “a means to an end,” I am writing A so I can get to point B.

For me, when it comes to utilizing technology it seems to have a built-in sense of rush.  I can see now, how easy it has become to forget there is a real human being on the other end of that email.  I mean, of course, I know there is a human being on the other end but haven’t been writing it with them in mind, I have been writing it for me to get something done.  How much is thought ever really given to what the email puts into the other person’s life let alone what it puts out into the world?

I am not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination.  I am a lover of technology!  I have the luxury of being born at a time when technology was not nearly as advanced as it is today, so I tend to straddle the knowingness of before and now.  When I was in elementary school, we still had the yellow pages, clocks with hands on them, card files at the library and encyclopediae for reference.  At a very early age, I had a Commodore 64, and it was not long until I was breaking things apart to utilize the gadgets that were emerging onto the scene from dos programming to BBS systems offered through CompuServe, one of the first commercial online service providers.  I was entirely into discovering the amazingness of all things techy.  However, I have also recognized its pitfalls and throughout the past years have implemented many practices around technology that have improved the quality of my well-being.

There are numerous articles surfacing about how technology minimizes our connection with humanity, hijacks our attention and emotions and even shapes our physical posture and alignment, a few of which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post.  Technology is a great tool, but it is easy to fall into the trappings of a mindless reaction versus a mindful response.  There was a period in my life that if I could’ve automated everything I thought I would live in Nirvana.  However, within the last several years, I have experienced the negative impacts of technology and how they are affecting humanities well-being.

With email technology, it has become easy to be mindless and disassociate with the understanding that there is another HUMAN BEING on the other end, receiving your email.  We can move so quickly with the driving force of always “get it done” rather than slowing down for an extra 30 seconds and taking some time to send a mindful email.  The additional amount of time is not that much longer in the scheme of things.  The added benefit, from my experience, is the extra time on the front-end minimizes time spent on the back end clarifying and reiterating with additional emails.  Slowing down and being mindful when sending an email also opens up the space to take responsibility for what you are putting in someone else’s inbox and into the world.

My practice when sending emails begins with taking a deep breath before I start.  This deep breath break is before I write an email or before I respond to an email.  If I am replying, after my deep breath, I read the words written in the email.  It is easy to adopt a “scan the email” mentality, followed by personal inferences and interpretations.  When I have found myself approaching email from this scanning perspective, I so often skip an important word that can change the entire meaning of the email.

Next, after my deep breath, I ask myself, what is the purpose of this email?  This inquiry brings clarity to the words I use and how much quicker I get to the point.

The third clarifying question I ask myself is, what am I trying to say vs. what do I want to say?  Believe it or not, it makes a big difference.  Sometimes, when we approach an email with what we want to say we use too many words to accommodate whatever insecurities or personal agendas may arise, by asking myself what I am trying to say creates a space to be clear on my intent.

After I write my email I ask myself, “is this what I want to send out into the world?”  Then I proceed to re-read what I have written.

And finally, I push “SEND.”

I do not claim to do this every time.  Sometimes I get caught up in the rush of things and fire off a quick response or question— this is why I call it a practice.  It takes time for the habitual reaction to fade but I am committed to thoughtful, mindful action and this approach has brought more compassion, responsibility, and mindfulness to the action that is emailing.

Further Reading: