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I got told off this week.

Not in an unkind way, but in a way that let me know in no uncertain terms where I had failed in their eyes.

How we react to being told off can reveal a lot about ourselves. But our emotional intelligence isn’t something that comes free with a packet of “Weeties.”  We have to work hard to develop it and it is something that continues to develop and be refined across our lifespan.

Our fast emotive and reactive part of our brain perceives the threat coming our way and our first response is often defensive.
With emotional intelligence we learn to step back, to pause and reflect. We learn to take responsibility for our actions and own up to mistakes. This is because we can learn so much from them. The experience makes us more resilient to dealing with the ups and downs we face on a regular basis.
But sometimes when we don’t expect the attack, it catches us off guard and then we end up more bemused and perplexed about what is happening, rather than resistive or angry.

This was the place I found myself in, wondering why I was getting a dressing down.
My sin was that I had written an email. Mea culpa. Not only that, it had at least three sentences in it. Mea culpa again.
Perhaps you can see why I was slightly perplexed, especially as it had been written in response to a question.

It wasn’t the content. Phew!

It was the fact I had used sentences and not bullet points.
All they wanted I was told, was a series of bullet points, one, two three.
Nothing more. They don’t have the time to read letters they said.


The irony of the situation was even more apparent when I realised the person concerned had failed to read the content of the email in which I outlined the importance of how we pay attention and why only using headlines is leading to a society driven by a tickertape mentality.

Research has shown us that the headline crawl that shows on our screens when we watch the news reduces our ability to take in the content of what we are watching by 10%. Our attention span has been continually whittled down from 10-12 minutes to now being closer to 5.

The average amount of time we spend on a website is typically less than a minute, often 10 to 20 seconds, yet we are relying more and more on the web for our sources of information.

Could it be our technology is actually reducing our depth of understanding of our world?
Some would say this is a natural consequence of information overload. We simply no longer have the time or capacity to filter through the vast reams of information available to us, so we indulge in playing “skipping stones” with our attention. We pause just long enough to skim the surface, but not so long as to truly get the complete meaning.

Hilary Mantel, the author of “Wolf Hall” was recently a victim of skimming stones. She gave a speech at the British Museum and was quoted in the media for some comments she made about Kate Middleton. Unfortunately for Hilary her comments were reported completely out of context, which resulted in her being lambasted, by the press and senior politicians who had not actually heard her speech in its entirety and reacted solely to the provocative headline that misquoted her.
So would I write the email again any differently?
Bullet points instead of a letter?

Pass me my quill; I would rather apply some thinking to my writing.

But in your life, do you find yourself skimming through material?
Do you still have the time to sit in a quiet place to enjoy the simple pastime of reading an entire book?
Do you think it is time to pause and re-evaluate how do we want to allocate our attention?

While I understand the issue with time poverty and the need to be succinct in how we communicate, my telling off for using too many words, gave me much to ponder on. There is much to be said for allocating sufficient words and thinking to the messages we want to share with the world.

Photo Credit:
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Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.


  • Barry Horne says:

    I appreciated this thoughtful reaction to a criticism to what was perceived to be a relatively long email. As is the case with all communication, the sender has an obligation to consider the optimal medium of communication for a given message to attain impact, take into account the likely interests of the recipient, and the contextual/organisational norms of communication.

    Today, we receive "information" stimuli through a multiplicity of channels, which can all be applied optimally or sub-optimally. Somehow we are expected to attend to every incoming stimuli as if it was imperative to respond immediately. Our organisations would do well to reflect on their communication philosophies and preferred protocols.

    As examples:

    Should a divisional change management process be "communicated" by sending out multiple emails with expansive attachments (even in the interests of environmental savings), assuming that genuine engagement has been achieved?

    Should email be used, at all, to imply criticism of a colleague?



    • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

      Hello Barry,

      Yes our use of email is often done with little thought as to how what we send will be viewed by the recipient and whether it meets their needs. The example you provide of a reaction to a "long" email is very useful to think about.

      And yes the expectation of Immediate response to our communication channels is driving us into more distracted thinking.

      Thank you for your valuable insights.


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