Everyone lies: Dr. House and email

(c) iStockphoto / ThinkstockEveryone lies” says Dr. House. Of course, we all tell little lies; they stop us from becoming social outcasts. One thing I currently lie about is the amount of email I get every day. I suspect that I am not alone in doing this.

Dr. House; the management anti-hero

Tired of reading well-meaning management books that tell you everything you’re doing wrong at work? Then kick off your shoes, put your feet up and settle down to watch an episode of Dr. House. Set in the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, House is the Chief of Diagnostic Medicine and leads a team that specializes in treating difficult cases.

Gregory House

Image via Wikipedia

Dr. House is the ultimate management anti-hero. He arrives when he chooses for work, seems to spend endless hours in his office amusing himself with small toys, drops in an out of meetings and shows no respect for anybody whether it be the management, his colleagues or his patients.

After a long day of trying to be the perfect caring and sharing manager, up to date on all the latest techniques, House is the perfect antidote. I guess we would all like to be him, if only for one day.

Dr. House is an impossible person to work with, but he does know a thing or two about strategy and human nature.  He frequently tells his colleagues to disbelieve things told to them by their patients.

Everyone lies” he exclaims.

Everyone Lies

One thing that Dr. House never seems to do is send an email.  Personally, I find this ironic as it is the question I lie most about these days. When I first arrived in my current job I was amazed to discover emails that would copy in up to ten colleagues. Many exchanges would be as follows:

Colleague 1: “Great news. I just wanted to tell you that we have done this…”
Colleague 2: (with everyone copied in) “Fantastic
Colleague 3: (everyone copied in again) “Well done
Colleague 4: (and again) “This is good news
Colleague 5: (and again…) “Amazing!

Get the picture?

The natural tendency would be to run down the mail and delete all of these as quickly as possible. However, this was an electronic minefield since in the middle of this there would be a mail giving important information. Some people even added to the confusion by adding significant material in the middle of these congratulatory mails. Over the past year or so, I am pleased to say that we have worked hard to move away from the incessant amount of mail that we generate.

This has been done in two ways. Firstly, by encouraging people to think about who was being copied in. The “Reply to All” button been sent to the naughty corner where it belongs. Secondly, by empowering people in the team to make their own decisions without having to refer to their n+1. The results of this have been impressive.

The team is spending more time on work that requires a good deal of concentration and quick informal meetings have been increased so that we can still talk to each other.  Having done this empowerment stuff that all management books tell us about I should be happy, right? Well, I am, until I am confronted with that wonderful question: “How many emails do you get every day?”

Social norms in email

In fact, this question is subject to social norms and is a test of just how important you are (or think you are) to your company. There was a time when 50 was a pretty decent figure. That got upped to 75. Today, if you want to be considered a serious player you’ve got to be talking at least 100 plus. Bona fida digital warriors would be ashamed to admitting anything below the 150 mark.

My own problem is that my emails have decreased over the past year. Empowerment, organisation and better IT technology to cut out spam have all contributed to making my computer screen less red than in the past. This has allowed me to do other things that require greater concentration but I am still feeling withdrawal symptoms. I just can’t get over the idea that a reduction in mail means I am not pulling my weight anymore.

So, what do I do? I lie, of course. Just a little white lie, but I do it all the same. In truth I don’t actually know how many emails I get a day. (I suspect that most people really don’t know either.) And I’m lucky enough in my job to have far more interesting things to do than to count them. So I revert to giving an estimate based on the person I’m talking to, and how important I want to make myself sound.

There is a subtle art to this. In fact, the figure you give is the professional equivalent to young men boasting about how many pints of beer they can drink and still be standing. The answer has to be high enough to prove your professional virility, without making you sound like an alcoholic.

So how many mails did I get yesterday? Well, you give me your figure first. I got about 25 more than you did… just to be on the safe side!

See also:

The top 5 most embarrassing work email fails

Proper Gander Magazine: “This is one for those who often use their work accounts to send personal emails. You’ve just finished typing an email to your best friend about a weekend away, when a client pops up asking for an update on their project. You quickly tap out an email and as you hit send, you realise you included a kiss – embarrassing doesn’t even cover it. *Warning: Keeping your mouse button clicked down and trying to slowly slide the curser off the button will not magically stop it from sending.”

Mark Thomas

Grenoble EM

ESC Grenoble




Global Ed

International Affairs in Higher Education

Business School


Filed under Business, Management, Technology

3 responses to “Everyone lies: Dr. House and email

  1. Pingback: Work: It’s what you do, not where you are | GlobalEd

  2. I m looking for help with real problems. Its about relocating out west to help my emotions and physical problems. I want a hospital and meds that begin a new life out of family depression in n.e.. I ve been in recovery since 1997 and moving forward. Dream of new challenges out west where people are more open and friendly. I have many talents and want to work with people reestablishing their interests

  3. Can I go to the hospital and relive my dreams out there….i m disheartened and want a new challenge. The west is beautiful……the people aren t as cold and competitive as n.e. I have many desires with talents with recovery since 1997. House is maybe hopeful for someone with emotional and physical changes with therapy to complete their life happily

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s