Emails with subject lines of: “URGENT REQUEST” – “3 Request!!” – “Escalated Request” or even better, the one’s where they copy your manager or supervisor when you haven’t responded….those are just lovely, right?
Yes, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those nasty emails exchanged between colleagues at work. The pressure builds up, people are not responding, deadlines are approaching and it’s……overwhelming. Before you hit send, wait! Take a deep breath; take your hands off the keyboard and slowly back away.
Here’s how to deal with keyboard bullies and nasty emails:
1. Write your response in a WORD document. Print it out and leave the building. Go outside your office and read it out loud to yourself (try to find a secluded place like a car or a stairwell). Now I suppose you may have questions about my strategy so allow me to elaborate.
Why are you writing in WORD? Because I don’t want you to accidentally hit “send” when you are trying to print (that’s happened to me before!!)
Why are you going outside? Because you need to immediately separate yourself from your computer so the urge to hit “send” isn’t so easy to act on.
Why are you reading it out loud? Because when you read your reply out loud it forces you get your feelings out of being bottled up inside and once you’ve released the emotion verbally, you can now clearly begin to re-visit what you wrote and make a conscious decision about the reaction to your email. Think about if the email was read by someone other than the intended receiver, how that would impact your personal brand and reputation.
2. Stick to the facts! You may have valid reasons to support your points but you don’t want that to get lost in delivery. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read emails back and forth full of assumptions and sarcasm. Emails that include comments such as “Usually it’s done this way” or “I thought you knew that considering your department handles ________.” Resist the urge to remind people how to do their job. It’s petty. When you give people more ammunition, they will use it. Don’t give them that opportunity.
3. Make it short and sweet. I know you’re probably thinking that many responses call for extended emails, but can I share a secret with you? People hate long emails! Especially the ones with bullet points and long paragraphs explaining your defenses. Stop it. They just want the problem solved and the time it takes you to write up a lengthy response in your defense could be time spent fixing the issue at hand.
4. Be the hero! When your supervisor or manager is copied in a nasty email from a colleague or customer, always respond positively and always have an attitude of reconciliation. Here’s a great suggestion, how about picking up the phone and calling that colleague? Or even better, if your co-worker is in range, it may be a great idea to get up and walk over to him/her and have a chat. It’s amazing how easily you can diffuse a nasty email situation when you face the person sending it with a smile. You’ll find most people are much less intimidating or nasty in person or over the phone. Now if you are able to resolve the issue verbally then I recommend you always send a follow up email reiterating your conversation. You never want to leave a nasty email hanging in the wind without a response. Showing you had a talk with someone instead of shooting a nasty email back says a lot about your leadership skills and proves your opponent wrong about your knowledge/capabilities to perform your job.
My 3 Email Rules:
Greeting. Always begin with “Hello, Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Dear….etc”. This is important because if the email is reviewed by someone else in a senior position, you want them to see your courteous response and respect given to the email sniper. This is your chance to display your professionalism.
Apology. This is very difficult to do when you are upset. The apology is not admitting you did anything wrong. It means you value the relationship with your colleague more than you value your ego. Example: “Unfortunately the shipment didn’t arrive” or “Regretfully, the customer declined the offer”. You don’t have to say “I’m sorry”, you can express your disappointment about the outcome and quickly move on.
Resolve. In response to nasty emails, there must always be a resolve offered by the receiver. Whether it be you working together with another person or team to get it done, or you actively staying on top of the issue yourself; there must be a resolve. If it requires you follow up in an hour then do so, even if you don’t have a solution, always stick to your word and send an update showing you are handling the issue that will eventually lead to a resolve. The sender likely just wants to know you are on top of repairing the problem. The longer you take to respond, the more escalated the problem becomes.
Here’s what you need to know about email politics
Your email response should never be about you and your feelings. Why? Because the goal is to take the attention off of you and put it back on the problem that needs to be solved. Your goal should always be to try and work together to solve the problem, even if the accusations within the email are totally incorrect. Stick to the facts, not feelings.
Nasty emails are personal. The sender is either trying to cut you down because they are intimidated by you or your good work and want to find a way to sabotage your reputation or they are having a bad experience with your department, division, or internal customer service (yes, there is such a thing) and it’s interfering with their productivity which may create a problem with their job security and that means war. But whatever their reasoning is, you need to focus on being the problem solver, not blame game referee.
In the end, it’s much easier said than done but I urge you to think about the reaction down the line, and not just about getting your point across today.
Emails have been the demise of so many companies and careers and I don’t want you to add yourself to that list.
This post was also featured on LinkedIn Pulse. Find it here.