I’m sitting on my porch in Vermont on an absolutely beautiful summer’s eve. Everything seemed perfect until my friend says, “By the way I have an etiquette question for you.”
My antenna went up as the tranquility of the perfect evening was threatened.
“I have this friend, the sweetest friend,” she went on, “but he keeps sending me emails—you know, scenic pictures, stories, jokes. I keep deleting them, but I feel guilty. What do I do? How can I stop him from sending them to me?”
Clearly, she was between a rock and a hard place: continue to deal with the numerous unsolicited emails or risk saying something to her friend that would make him feel unappreciated and hurt the friendship.
Realistically, she has two choices, say something and stop the emails, or put up with the emails, delete them, and learn to accept her guilt. Taking the first path, she could say something like, “Tom, I really enjoy you but would you mind taking me off your distribution list? I’d really appreciate it.” There’s no telling for sure how Tom will feel about the request. He may not be bothered at all or he may be peeved that his friend doesn’t like what he is sharing. Unfortunately, my friend simply has no way of knowing what he will feel. So, I told her she needs to assess how important it is to her that the emails stop, because no matter how gentle she might be in communicating with him, the result might be a hurt relationship.
In the final analysis we settled on choice number two: keep deleting the emails. He’s a friend, and it’s really not that painful to look at and delete these emails and who knows, maybe every once in a while there will be one that brings a smile to her face. That’s a much better result than potentially damaging a dear friendship.
While in this situation saying nothing is the right choice for my friend, that may not always be the case. For instance, the emails may be offensive or push a belief you don’t share or the person really isn’t a friend, and you’d prefer not to be receiving those emails. In that case asking the person to take you off their distribution list may be the right thing to do. Just be gentle in your request. You don’t have to explain that you find the emails offensive or that you disagree with the person; just ask.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."