Nasty Email: Anger or Panic?
A recent news story has got me thinking about poor email communication.
A transcript of an exchange between Jerry A . Taylor (City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma) and Johnny Hughes (CentOS 4 Lead Developer) has been posted on the CentOS.org news section.
The transcript is of the chain of emails between the two individuals started by Mr Taylor when he discovered the cityoftuttle.org website loaded a CentOS-3 test page. The transcript starts with Mr Taylor accusing CentOS of hacking the City website, subsequently threatening to bring in the FBI. He is ultimately proved wrong in his assumption but has trouble backing down at any stage.
In the spirit of "the truth is stranger than fiction", it would be hard to believe that this was made up, especially considering the slander that would be on show.
This introduces a new element that I have never delved into when I have reflected on poor use of email messages before: panic. If all the elements surrounding this story are true then that is the only explanation for Mr Taylor's actions.
An article on the TuttleTimes, reviews Mr Taylor's appointment as City Manager and lists a resume that would suggest he is more than capable of identifying and sorting the problem he encountered.
If you read through the comments on the bottom of the transcript (which are worth going through in my opinion), you'll see that a rather negative opinion is forming around Mr Taylor. After opening himself up for ridicule with his comment:
I am computer literate! I have 22
years in computer systems engineering and operation. Now, can you tell me
how to remove "your software" that you acknowledge you provided free of
charge? I consider this "hacking". I have no fear of the media, in fact I
welcome this publicity.
Now this is a long, long way down the chain of emails where this appears beauty appears. Hours have passed since the original message was sent. With that in mind it becomes harder to believe that it is a state of panic driving his typing fingers and more so the problem of adopting a stance and being embarrassed of changing it.
Consequently, Mr Taylor's end position looks rather indefensible with the evidence currently presented. He was rude throughout and after the man he was berating went further than necessary to solve something that wasn't his problem, he still refuses to apologise or thank Mr Hughes for the efforts.
So what should Mr Taylor have done?
He had a situation that needed resolving and he suspected it was an illegal activity. I can only imagine he is a very emotional man, an asset in some respects and a liability in others. Rationality had left the building, entirely.
What failsafe can you administer once you have lost objectivity?
I wish I could provide a helpful answer, but a side effect of the digital world is that any message you send to anyone could end up on public display. You have absolutely no choice but to keep a reign on your emotions, to keep some sort of control, to minimize the danger you present to yourself.
Hat tip: Patrick of Suburbia
Disclaimer: This was written based on the evidence I could find of the transaction, of which Mr Taylor's personal views of the event were not apparent.
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