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Delivering Bad News Via E-Mail

John Makulowich

By John Makulowich

In what might be called the "don't get mad, get even" model for developing software programs, Vista X Software of Austin, Texas, recently released a free utility, GovernMail, that lets users track and contact by e-mail federal and world government representatives.

The free, advertiser-sponsored application runs on Windows 95, 98 or NT, Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher and 16 megabytes of RAM. You can download the 1,435 kilobyte, compressed file named gvml100.zip at www.governmail.com.

The program features a built-in Web browser for quickly viewing featured sites. It includes e-mail; hyperlinks to the World Wide Web sites of all senators and Congress members, numerous world leaders and parliaments; and a range of political news sources.

You can look at the sites of individual congressional representatives, get the latest votes in the House and Senate and connect to news sources. On startup, the program checks for updated lists.

You will need to configure your e-mail client to message government officials either as individuals or as selected groups. You can even send e-mail to all members of Congress or selected members of a specific party. Lastly, you can store your contact information in GovernMail to include it in future messages.

Before you download, install, configure and use GovernMail, you might want to know about the latest research on e-mail from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

According to a recent journal article, "Straight Talk: Delivering Bad News Through Electronic Communication," which appeared in an INFORMS publication, Information Systems Research, delivering bad news by e-mail vs. personally or by phone ensures a more accurate message and less discomfort for the messenger.

The authors, Stephanie Watts Sussman of Case Western Reserve University and Lee Sproull of the Boston University School of Management, note that delivering bad news electronically is counter to norms, whereas delivering it personally is a sign that the news is important and the person bearing it cares about the one getting it.

In fact, delivering bad news electronically might even cause the person receiving it to discount the news or take offense at the way the message was delivered.

But the authors of the study think this may change.

As they said in their article: "The increasingly widespread use of electronic media for organizational communication may alter these norms over time, especially in instances where face-to-face interaction is not possible due to geographical separation."

The study was conducted using 117 Boston University undergraduates. They delivered positive or negative information to fellow students in one of three ways: in person, by phone or via e-mail.

The message here could be to think twice before using the GovernMail program to send bad news to your congressional representative. It could be exactly the right way to deliver the medicine, especially if you plan on changing the way you plan to vote in an upcoming election or want to express displeasure on an issue or a recent congressional vote.

You can send John e-mail at john@journalist.com; his Web address is www.cais.com/makulow/.

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