How Not to Deliver Bad News

I have not to date spent much time on issues that fall into the life skills category, but after receiving an undeliverable email for the millionth time, I feel compelled to go Emily Postal and espouse my views on the etiquette of electronic communication.

So you send an email that doesn’t get delivered to the intended source? Highly frustrating, but it happens. The person changes his or her address, the business closes, or you type in the wrong letters. Whatever.  Here’s what I get from my provider in the response (my commentary in ( ) :

Hi (like we are bestest buddies). This is the qmail-send program at ___.com.
I’m (who the hell are you?) afraid I wasn’t able to deliver your message to the following addresses. This is a permanent error; I’ve given up. (How hard did you try?) Sorry it didn’t work out. (Really, if you were sorry, you would have tried harder and not given up)

And it’s from an email address entitled: MAILER-DAEMON@___.com, which if you remove the “er” from mailer and the “a” from Daemon becomes what it really is: Mail Demon.

But let’s say you get over this first part and its exorcist roots. As long as the return email provides information that helps you correct the error, you can live with a few head spins. Below, however, is just a small excerpt of what followed in the Demon email:

<html><head><style”text/css”><!– DIV {margin:0px;} –></style></he=
ad><body><div style=3D”font-family:times new roman, new york, times, serif;=
font-size:14pt”><DIV></DIV>=0A<DIV>=0A<DIV =
_no_widget=3D”true”><SPAN”textLink fontLink textLink-over” title=
=3D”Virus scan and download 00646_n_8a004ky6f2857.zip””top._cmd(=
dow.event)window.parent.Evt.cancel()” widget=3D”” booted=3D”1″><U><FONT

I have heard of speaking in tongues but my God, all I want to know is what’s wrong with my email address. Even the Post Office will occasionally write on a returned letter “deceased”. It’s gotten such that I’m afraid to open these Demon emails for fear it’s placing a curse on me. Who knows what “widget=3D”” booted=3D” really means.

So for the benefit of humankind, I propose the following less demonic and more pragmatic guidelines for “bad email” responses.

First, no need to pretend there is a real person sending the emails. That ship sailed years ago.

Second, just inform us of the situation and potential resolution. No need to say “sorry” or that “you tried”. Remember the eloquent words of Detective Joe Friday, “Just the facts” ma’am. 

Third, keep it short and avoid computer speak.

Finally, change the email address to something like, “emailhelper@whatever.com”. This way, we know the service is there to help, not screw with our brains.

I hope this helps, and that Emily Post would be proud. I must go now, however, and arrange my fucking silverware.

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