The Day I Was a Rude Jerk: The Risks of Digital Communication

Some months ago I was immersed in a 20-page online e-book at a new website I was exploring. I was on page 18 when I discovered that the site required me to register before I could continue to read the final two pages.

I have to admit I was put off by this. I felt manipulated. However, wanting to finish the e-book, I completed the lengthy form and clicked submit. I expected the final two pages to show up in the e-book, but nothing happened. I clicked and searched but still couldn’t figure out how to read the final two pages. Now I was a little more than frustrated.

Photo Credit: Declan

So I fired off an email to the site. I’ll admit that I referred to the process as “annoying, irritating and aggravating.” Then I asked the question, “What am I doing wrong? Help.”

Shortly the reply came: “What you’re doing wrong is being a rude jerk.”


I was reminded of this experience last week when I ran into a similar problem. Again, I was browsing a new website, found a white paper I would like to download, completed a too-lengthy registration form, clicked submit, and nothing happened. Later I discovered a link to the white paper in my email inbox, but when I clicked that it simply returned me to the site’s registration page.

I emailed the site, explained the difficulty I had encountered, and wrote: “This experience is pretty high on my irritation scale.”

Shortly the reply came — with the white paper attached:  “I apologize for the experience. I hope you won’t give up on us. Please feel free to email me personally if you have any other trouble with our site or our resources. Happy to help any way I can.”

Some lessons:

• Make sure any registration steps on your website work right and are completely clear to your patients and their families. Test them from time to time, and have someone outside of your marketing or IT departments test them as well — just to make sure the process makes sense.

• Watch your language. Was I a rude jerk? To the guy at the other end of my first email it must have seemed that way. Could I have toned down my email? Certainly. Could he have? Definitely.

Listen to understand. This is one of our Hive Core Values, and the woman writing the second email nailed it. What she heard was my frustration, not a personal attack. And her response took all the stress out of the experience.

• If you have any hint that your response may not be the right one, sit on it. Put the email in your draft box and read it again in 20 minutes. Then send it.

There are definitely risks of misunderstanding in our digital communication age, but following these few simple steps can help avoid the big problems.

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