Re: Use of email
From: Jim Mayer (
Date: Sun, 9 Feb 2014 19:54:25 -0800 (PST)
I'm not in a co-housing group, but I've been using email for over thirty
years.  In my experience, email is most useful when people treat it as if
they are writing a physical letter. It's tempting, though, because email
feels so interactive, to treat email correspondence as if it was a verbal
conversation.  Unfortunately, it's hard to read body language in an email

For example, suppose you and I were talking face to face.  I turn to you
and say, smiling, with an open body posture: "I can't believe you said
that!".  Now, suppose I said exactly the same words but with an angry scowl
and my arms tightly crossed.  The meanings are completely different!

Continuing the same example, suppose I said "I can't believe you said
that!", and then noticed that you  froze and looked hurt.  If I'd been
admiring your chutzpah, I'd know my meaning hadn't gotten across and would
say something right away.

With email, though, the message I blearily typed at 2:00 am might not be
read for hours, and it could be the next evening before I checked my email
again.  A lot of  interpersonal damage can happen in a day!

Group emails can get even messier.  You and I may have known each other for
years, and that context can promote understanding, but John Doe, who moved
in last week, doesn't know me at all.  It's the difference between a public
letter and a private one.

It sounds to me like the self-moderation and informal guidelines that Diana
mentioned are working about as well as they could.  I've never seen it done
"perfectly".  Actually, I wonder if the "difference in philosophy" Diana
mentioned might have to do with differences in learning style as much as
anything else.  I find it helpful to write my thoughts down, and I
appreciate it when other's do the same.  I've known very smart people,
though, who have a much more interactive learning style.  For them,
communication is a contact sport!

Thanks for the interesting topic!

Jim Mayer
Rochester, NY

On Sun, Feb 9, 2014 at 9:59 PM, Rod Lambert <rod [at]>wrote:

> What Diana says makes some sense. It often seems that useful discussion
> gets stifled too quickly because of a blanket understanding that if anyone
> says it doesn't belong on email it stops dead in it's tracks. There are
> certainly issues that could benefit from pre-meeting edification and
> discussion.
> Rod Lambert
> EcoVillage at Ithaca, NY
> Date: Sat, 8 Feb 2014 13:09:47 -0500
> From: Diana Carroll <dianaecarroll [at]>
> Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Use of email
> To: Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
> Message-ID:
>         <CAAJBS=-
> Snq6kjsvjB_a_yjgrxFJ8F8efQ+uvPkK+UcC8cV3DbA [at]>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
> Mosaic Commons uses email a LOT.  95% of the email is pretty light stuff --
> notices of events, people looking to borrow or give away something, etc.
>  But we DO also use it to discuss ISSUES, and yes, sometimes it can get
> pretty heated.  Only very occasionally does it spiral into overt flaming or
> hostility, but even civil discussions can leave people with hurt or angry
> feelings.  But then, that's true of in-person meetings as well.  I've left
> plenty of in-person meetings feeling unheard, misunderstood, resentful,
> etc.
> Our list moderators do nothing other than handle administrative functions
> (adding and removing people, changing email address, dealing with spam and
> so forth.)  There's absolutely no official moderation of content.  We DO
> self-moderate as a community.   Often individuals will say "Hey, I think
> this is off-topic" or "You guys aren't being civil, please calm down".
>  Sometimes when a discussion becomes very volatile, our Community
> Support/Conflict Resolution team will step in and ask that a conversation
> be stopped until feelings have settled down, folks have had a chance to
> discuss in person, etc.
> We have some etiquette guidelines to help keep the list useful.  For
> example, use accurate, descriptive subjects; if you've made a request and
> are now all set, follow up with "All set" in the subject line; mail
> containing very important content that everyone in the community must read
> should be tagged "IMPORTANT".
> We also have "ground rules" for meetings that also unofficially apply to
> email.  I can't remember all our ground rules, but they include things like
> "Emotions are okay, attacks are not", "Don't speak for others", "Listen for
> understanding" and so on.  But there is no one whose official job it is to
> enforce the rules.
> Other than sheer volume (which is its own issue), our biggest email
> difficulty is that some people (like me) prefer writing as a way of
> communicating about challenging subjects, and others prefer face to
> face...and email of course naturally favors the former.  Periodically the
> face-to-face preferers will say "I don't want to discuss this in email,
> this is not a good discussion, let's do it in person"...and email preferers
> will feel shut down.  We've never really found the best way to work around
> the fundamental difference in philosophy.
> Diana
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