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This case portrays a small and insignificant confrontation between two people which became an instantaneous internet and e-mail frenzy, bringing its instigators to infamous stardom. A concoction of a few rash words of rage, miscommunication and choice of inappropriate communication channel lead to an irreparable dent on relationships. This shows the power of communication and the gravity when mistakes takes place in the communication process. Robbins et al (2009) defines communication as the transfer and understanding of meaning. (p 381) Miscommunication occurs when the meaning intended by the sender is misinterpreted or disrupted due to noise.
When analysing the case, different theories of communication such as the communication process, non verbal communication and information richness of channels was utilized to better understand the problems.
First it is important that the communication process is briefly explained in order to understand how the process could be disrupted. Given below is a diagram of the communication process.
Source: Robbins (2005) page 383
The communication process
In this case, communication is alternating between Abdala and Korman, both taking the positions of sender and receiver. The channel chosen is electronic mail. Even though the use of e-mail is increasing rapidly, it has its limitations. Justin Kruger, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, has found that as few as 50% of users grasp the tone or intent of an e-mail and that most people vastly overestimate their ability to relay and comprehend messages accurately. (Brady, 2006) Furthermore, the encoding and decoding of the message was affected by flared up tempers which hindered their ability to see straight, use the right words and interpret the proper meaning.
On completion of the analysis, the importance of effective communication was clear. On a final note it should be mentioned that the right choice of communication channel, proper encoding and decoding, feedback and minimizing noise could cushion the harshest criticism to a mere advice and vice versa.
Dianna Abdala was a recent graduate from law school and had passed the bar exam. After her interview with a law firm started by William Korman (a former state prosecutor), she was offered the job.
Thereafter she decides to reject the job offer and communicates this decision via e-mail sent at 9.23 pm on a Friday. She reasons that the salary wouldn't support her lifestyle and she would prefer to start on her own. Korman replies to her e-mail on Monday afternoon. He conveys his disappointment at her rejecting the job which she previously accepted and was further displeased that she had chosen to communicate this information via e-mail and voicemail message at a late hour on the last weekday of the week. He further states that he has made arrangements for her arrival at the job, such as ordering stationery and reformatting computers. Nevertheless, he wishes her the best of luck in her future endeavours. This e-mail was replied to by Abdala saying that she was not bound by her acceptance to Korman since there was no written contract. A reply by Korman cautioned her not to start on the wrong foot with experienced lawyers in a very small legal community. Thereafter Korman received a quick and rude reply by Abdala, which he forwarded to few of his colleagues. This mail spread like wildfire.
2.1 Group Opinion
(Question 1 - With whom do you side here? Abdala or Korman?)
Both parties have made several mistakes in this situation. However, Abdala is guilty of initiating and worsening the disagreement which leads to a heated exchange of words. Hence, we side with Korman. The justification has been provided in the answer for the second question.
2.2 Mistakes made by Abdala and Korman
(Question 2 - Which mistakes do you think each party made?)
The following is an analysis of the mistakes each party did-:
2.2.1 Abdala's mistakes:
Despite being a graduate, Abdala displays a high level of unprofessionalism and immaturity not only in terms of her attitudes, but also in terms of how she communicates her views and the channel she used in this example to convey a message of importance.
Mistakes in her attitude / decision
Despite being a graduate, Abdala behaves irresponsibly, and does not understand the gravity of this situation. After having gone for two interviews (as Korman stated) and having implied her agreement to join Korman's firm, she later decides not to do so. She does not seem to have clearly known what she wanted, and whether she really wanted this job. Hence, one mistake at this point is her view that her "well thought out" decision was justifiable in the eyes of Korman - who was to be her employer. Whilst Abdala is fair in making her decision not to be employed under Korman, she must understand that once she had already implied her commitment to a very senior member of this community, she should feel more responsible about her change of decision. However, her message does not demonstrate any sense of guilt on her part for having changed her mind. Had she apologised to Korman for changing her decision and explained herself in a more profound manner, Korman may have understood and accepted her decision as somewhat fair and justifiable. However, she assumes a very cold and straightforward view that her change of decision is not questionable or challengeable in anyway. Whilst she is correct in not joining a firm that does not compensate her enough, she should feel more responsible about how she communicates it to the firm, as she has already implied commitment.
Mistakes in how she communicated her message
Another grave mistake that Abdala made is the way in which she communicated her message. William Korman - a very senior lawyer and former state prosecutor had just hired her and given her good start to a successful career. Not all graduates may have received this same opportunity that Abdala received. Whilst it is fair by her to not start employment at a place that does not offer her enough compensation, she should have communicated this in a more professional and diplomatic way. Her email to Korman was too sharp and abrupt. She does not thank him for offering the opportunity to work with him, instead initiates the email by rejecting the offer. The tone implied by her lines denotes a sense of arrogance and highhandedness. She could have initiated the message by thanking him for the opportunity given. Her choice of words demonstrates a lack of gratitude and respect for the firm. She is very immature and disrespectful when she writes "bla bla bla" as a sarcastic retort to Korman's final mail. A more professional approach would have led her to comment on the success of the firm/Korman, and the exposure she may lose for having changed her decision, and finally put across her decision not to join, in a more tactful way. This would have ensured that Korman and his firm are duly praised before being rejected.
She has also made a spelling mistake which is quite unprofessional in the light that this is a very serious and official letter. She writes "...and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew".
Even the subject of the mail is misleading. It reads "Thank you", instead of what she hopes to communicate through her mail. And the mail itself is sent on the last day weekday of the week at 9pm. This is not generally done.
During official communication, there are certain words that should be avoided as they are too colloquial. However, Abdala writes as if she was speaking during a very unofficial conversation. She has also missed out on adding a proper closing before signing her name. A simple "Yours Sincerely/Faithfully" or "Best Regards" would have sufficed at this point, to which Abdala has not given any thought.
Mistakes in the mode of communication
The situation presented in the case is quite sensitive, hence Abdala should not have limited her message to just an email. Even a voicemail message at 9.30pm is not very appropriate for this situation. Ideally she should have sent a formal letter, followed by a phone call at a decent hour. Not a voicemail message at 9.30pm!
Also, emails generally fail to capture the tone of voice, hence could lead to unwarranted misunderstandings.
Had Abdala used a different mode to communicate her decision, with a different tone and selection of words, Korman would have understood and received her decision more positively, and excused her for it. However, due to the lack of professionalism displayed in more than one way, Abdala may have ruined her chances for a future in this profession; especially since the criminal defence community is well acquainted and in touch.
2.2.2 Korman's mistakes:
Korman is very disappointed by Abdala's first email which leads to an exchange of nasty comments by both parties. As a very senior member of this legal community (former State Prosecutor) Korman may be used to a lot of respect from other lawyers. Also, in the light that he had just offered employment to a fresh graduate, he may have some expectations of respect from Abdala - as the junior attorney that would be trained under him. So whilst it is quite fair and justifiable that he takes offence by her arrogant email, Korman himself is guilty of making several mistakes.
As the older, senior and more experienced lawyer, Korman should not have degraded to Abdala's level. Abdala is clearly immature, since Korman could clearly see this; he could have used a different approach and words to show Abdala the gravity of what she is doing. Instead, he refers to the fact that the criminal defence legal community is very small, which is an indirect threat to blackmail. When Abdala continues to show disrespect, he converts his threat into reality, and forwards her correspondence to others, knowing that it would destroy her career, and trying to facilitate it. As a senior and experienced "Professional", it is irresponsible on Korman's part to have forwarded a correspondence of this nature to others. He should understand that Abdala has a long way to go not only in terms of her career, but most importantly in terms of rectifying some of her characteristics. These mistakes in Abdala's character would receive criticism and rectification at some point in her career, but given that Abdala declined Korman's offer, it is not in Korman's place to do so. But by forwarding emails - that highlight her weaknesses - to other attorneys, Abdala's career is most certainly destroyed. She may have had what it takes to be a very successful lawyer, despite several glitches in her personality, which could have been changed and corrected, with proper coaching by a mentor. However, Korman's actions may ensure that she is never hired by another attorney.
Similar to Abdala, Korman also makes a spelling error when he writes stationary, instead of stationery.
Another grave mistake that Korman did was arranging a setup for Abdala on a mere exchange of words. As an employer who is also a lawyer by profession, Korman should not have invested on a person without any written/signed contract. Whilst this is correctly pointed out by Abdala, this error would be noticed also by other recipients who receive these mails. Generally, employers would not go to the extent that Korman has gone in investing on a new recruit, without signing a formal contract.
However, it should also be mentioned that despite the arrogance exhibited by Abdala in her first mail, Korman does explain in detail his reasons to be annoyed and does not forget to wish her the very best of luck for her future. So he did offer her a second chance to rectify her approach. He also mentions that whilst he does not wish to quarrel with her reasoning (implying that it is in Abdala's right to make the decision she made) he gives a clear idea that he is annoyed by "the way this played out". Hence Korman has tried to make her understand that it is not what she did, rather how she went about doing it. Instead of taking his indirect advice in the correct spirit, Abdala makes the situation worse in her subsequent replies.
Considering the above points, we would side with Korman, as he has made fewer errors compared to Abdala in this incident.
2.3 The Impact On Abdala's Career And Korman's Firm
(Question3 - Do you think this exchange will damage Abdala's career? Korman's firm?)
There will be minimal damage from this exchange to Korman's firm as he is an established professional in the legal community.
By forwarding the email to colleagues Korman has shown a lack of professionalism in his part and people might even lose the respect they had for him. The challenge made by Abdala for not having the contract in writing will also be looked upon by the competitor law firms as a weakness of Korman. He will also get a negative impact from the community and the graduates in terms of the pay scale offered at his firm.
On the other hand Abdala will have both negative and positive impacts by this exchange. As mentioned in part 2 of this report, the unprofessional behavior of Abdala's will not be tolerated by the small knit legal community and they will have a negative impact upon her in terms of her professionalism. Korman can also impair her opportunities being an established and experienced lawyer in the community. Her attitude, poor communication style and the spelling and grammatical errors will definitely impact her employability as an attorney.
However there is a chance that her actions might be looked at positively too. Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business states "I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that this kind of behavior is naturally rewarded. But it does lead to success in some realms. This could be great for [Ms. Abdala's] career if you think about it." (cited in Sandberg, 2006)
Lawyers need to be witty and argumentative and if you see beyond Abdala's arrogance, she does make a valid point on her first rebuttal by stating that Korman should have not exercised any reliance without any written contact.
Arrogance is not the only characteristic she displays in her mails; she appears to be a very strong and an independent lady who refuses to be intimidated. For a profession like law, these characteristics are definitely useful.
If you consider a case where this mail trail was seen by someone in a law firm which is competing with Korman's; they might see Abdala in a more positive light and might even make a better offer. She will even have a good prospect by starting up her own law practice.
2.4 Limitations of Electronic Mail
(What does this exchange tell you of the limitations of e-mail?)
One of the most successful modes of communications ever invented in the world up to date is electronic mail; (E- mail) states Kruger et al (2005). It has become a quick and convenient solution for communicating a wide array of information from formal business information to informal tête-à-tête among friends. Since e-mail is a written form of communication, it fails to demonstrate the non-verbal cues of the sender. In this situation where Abdala has previously accepted the offer and now intends to reject it, sending only an e-mail is inadequate. Such a matter must be communicated face to face or via telephone, as the non-verbal cues are apparent when communicating via these channels. The tone in which the answer is given can make a difference as it can cushion the impact of negative information through intonations, facial expressions and body language. People usually use a softer tone to bring out bad or unfavourable results. Face to face communication not only conveys the message but also shows a better attitude towards the situation as a whole. If Abdala had a face to face conversation in declining the offer and used a softer positive tone to bring out the unfavourable answer, it would have lessened the severity and negativity of the answer. Instead she used an e-mail at 9.30pm which failed to bring out the right tone of voice which also gave the other party a different impression of the answer.
Theory of Channel Richness
Source: Based on R.H.Lengel and R.L.Daft. Cited by Robbins (2005)
Channel richness is the amount of information that can be transmitted during a communication episode. (Robbins, 2005) Channels that are high in richness are able to handle multiple cues simultaneously, facilitate rapid feedback and be very personal. (Robbins et al, 2009). If we take face to face communication, it has high channel richness as it gives a better understand of issues through facial expression and the tone of voice. Electronic mail scores low on channel richness. It shows that people consider e-mail low in richness in corresponding important information. It shows how unreliable e-mail can be. Given below are some limitations of e-mail and why it was inappropriate to use in this situation.
E-mails should not be used for important message
It is used to communicate short correspondence. The level of reliability of E-mail is very low because it cannot be trusted to pass down important information. As per this case Abdala should not have e-mailed her response to Korman as we can see it states that it was a declining of an offer which she had previously accepted. Therefore it should have been done in a more formal manner.
E-mails can be edited
People can often edit the original e-mail message they receive into whatever form they want. Therefore, you cannot always be sure that it will always be a 100% accurate e-mail received. According to this case, Korman has forwarded this e-mail to many of his friends. He could have even edited the e-mail Abdala sent him to make it support him. It would have definitely affected Abdala's career as she was just at the start of her career.
Lacks the ability to convey non-verbal cues.
Miscommunication of the message came be a major limitation of e-mails because when writing we may mean one thing but the party reading the mail might actually get a different impression because there's no emotion involved in the mail. Because Abdala did not correspond her declining of the offer in a formal manner it made a lot of irrelevant negative correspondence between them.
It lacks privacy
E-mails can be printed, distributed, forwarded or saved by the recipient for later dissemination (Munter et al, 2003) In this case; Korman was able to forward it to his friends. This reason together with the inherent advantage of the ability to forward to many people simultaneously has lead to the spread of the e-mail exponentially.
Risk of miscommunication
In this scenario it is clear that the last three e-mails that were sent between Abdala and Korman were sent within a time span of less than 30 minutes, meaning that both writers didn't take time to reflect upon what they were going to write. Their tempers flared and impatient, both became rude.
Inability to facilitate rapid response
Even though e-mail is much faster than the traditional post, the response time may depend on the time it takes the receiver to see the mail. This case clearly proves this point. Abdala got a reply to her first mail after two days, but the remaining correspondence was within a few hours. In this scenario Abdala sends her first e-mail to Korman on a Friday night. But Korman was only able to reply to it on Monday afternoon. It could even be assumed that he saw the mail only on Monday, since it was the first working day after the weekend.
Abdala may have been a young graduate at the time of this incident, but that does not justify her lack of professionalism and bad attitude. The root cause for this whole incident was the mere fact that she accepted a position at Korman's law firm without being certain of what she needs. She chose an inappropriate channel to send a sensitive message, and her choice of words was even worse. As a young graduate entering the professional world, she has definitely entered on the wrong foot.
It was unprofessional for a senior lawyer like Korman, to stoop down to the same level as Abdala. After all the main reason for his frustration as he points out, is that he had already invested on, and made arrangement for Abdala to assume her job. He should not have done any of this when Abdala had no contractual obligation. He also made statements which were on the lines of threatening or blackmailing only to be retorted by mere sarcasm. As an experienced adult, Korman should not have made a private email conversation public.
Abdala's approach could seriously impair her chances of establishing herself in her local legal community. Her attitude may be frowned upon by most of the senior lawyers who get to know of this incident.
This incident also sends out a negative message about Korman and his firm. Their integrity and respect may have been degraded to some level.
However after analyzing the situation deeply, it can be concluded that although Korman made his fair share of mistakes, the impact on his firm would be minimal and he will not incur any significant losses. Abdala's situation, on the other hand, could go in to either extreme. Her actions may be seen in a positive manner by some, but many would fail to see beyond her arrogance. Either way this incident would have a great impact on her career, although it would be difficult to conclude whether the impact would be negative or positive.
After evaluating the situation from an independent stand point, we conclusively side by Korman given that Abdala instigated the argument and displayed arrogance and lack of professionalism which blew the situation out of proportion.
We must not forget that the communication channel had it own flaws which further aggravated the situation. Although email is a powerful tool in communication, it fails to convey non verbal messages. Emails are fast and convenient, which increases an organization's productivity. But people must be mindful of the things that emails fail to address and thereby choose their communication channels appropriately.
After the analysis of this case, we understand the power of communication and the consequences of miscommunication. Therefore it is important that one must use the proper communication channels in order to convey the proper message.