How To Write Better Emails When The Going Gets Tough
Imagine someone you barely know falsely accuses you of something you didn’t do. Trust me, it happens. The person who lodged the complaint has likely been collecting and filing your every lol message building a case against you for months. Don’t be blindsided.
Remember everything you write under a company-issued email address is tracked, recorded, and saved. In my previous job, there was an army of lawyers and scientists dedicated to automating, tracking, and reviewing every email that any employee wrote.
Grandma gave the best advice: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it. Or at least reserve it for the coffee station. But I know the workplace is not quite so simple. Sometimes you have to pass along not-so-nice information. Select interactions even necessitate or require documentation. What do you do?
Keep It Short
The more you write, the more likely you will say things you don’t mean. It’s much safer to say less and let others imagine what you mean. We’ve all been there trying to decipher what that manager was trying to say. Well, now you know, he was being cryptic for a reason.
Wait 24 Hours
We’ve all been there. You get a vicious or ridiculous email that blows your mind. I know you’re just trying to do your job. But let’s be fair, most likely the other person is too. It’s just that their job is to make your job really really really hard. Welcome to Corporate America. First off, when you hit reply, delete their email from the “To:” box (there are no excuses for a sloppy send). Second, write out the response you WANT to send. Then wait 24 hours. Take a yoga class. Or better yet, a mixed martial arts class. Return to work and rewrite the response with a cooler head. When you’re ready, paste the email address back in and hit send.
This is a classic executive move. The contemptuous person will be forced to write another, kinder email or reach out directly. If they call your boss, you can claim confusion then ask your boss for advice now that he’s in the loop.
Talk I.R.L. (In Real Life)
Let’s be frank, nobody calls anybody anymore. If you call someone, that person will likely be flattered by the attention. Plus people are more likely to ignore an email than a missed call notification. But if you’re like some of my clients who think calling is “rude”, then consider setting it up with a short email and end with “This is a lot to cover in an email, I will call you tomorrow.”
Make It Personal
I know common sense would say never to mix personal and professional. And I believe that is absolutely the case, but the people I’ve seen succeed to the highest level have a personal professionalism. There is a reason so many deals are closed on the golf course or at some CEO boondoggle in Idaho. They are human beings and treat others as such, which provides a lot of leeway when situations go off the rails. Every email is an opportunity to plant a seed of a positivity. Suggest grabbing coffee together to go over the latest action steps or forward an article you think might be interesting to them. In work as in life, people are more likely to respond to friends than strangers.
Finally, it’s easy to get lost and anxious in rules. Don’t sweat it. No email is perfect because nobody is perfect. Some people will lie and fabricate emails just to get what they want. I have seen the depths of people’s jealousy, resentment, and deception in the workplace. It is ugly. So if the other shoe does indeed drop, accept that it was probably for the best and there is another organization out there that will value you for who you are.
And if it helps to hear it from a stranger, we can help.