It happens to us all. In dealing with a colleague, employee or even a customer of business partners, something rubs us the wrong way. Big time.
In the old days, we might manage the situation by walking down the hall and have a quiet chat. Well, it would most likely be a loud conversation. But we wouldn't throw too many verbal punches because we were looking the other person right in the eye.
Email and instant messaging changed everything. Since those are the most common forms of office communication nowadays, we get a bit of digital courage and write things we often wouldn't say. Oh, and what is written lasts forever, since people on the receiving end can keep it.
The good news is that if you use the written word correctly, you can speak your mind, and still avoid total office warfare. The next time you find yourself at your wit's end and ready to throw an electronic barrage, consider these seven steps to getting your point across professionally and resolving the issue.
Write the email while you're fired up but leave the “to” field blank. When you’re at your angriest, it’s best to use that energy to get out your true feelings. Don’t think. Just write. Write as if there are no repercussions. Speak your truth and get it all out. Say everything you’ve wanted to say for a while, even the nastiest, most ugly things you can come up with. However, don’t address the email. Leave that field blank or address it to yourself.
Let some time pass. After you speak (or actually write) your mind, put the email aside. Save it somewhere safe or email it to yourself (assuming no one within your organization is monitoring your emails on an ongoing basis). This puts a little distance between you and your frustration and allows you to come back to the email later when you can think rationally and make any adjustments before you hit the “send” button.
Edit with an eye toward risk-reward. Sending an email or IM poses a significant amount of risk, so you want to address each of your points and decide if the risk of saying it is worth the reward of getting it off your chest. Saying something just to make you feel better might be the best option, but perhaps it won't resolve the issue and only cause problems for you in the long run. Remember, you don't want to destroy your career, which would make you feel worse than the argument itself. You want to resolve this issue by getting it off your chest and being able to move on with the other person constructively. So edit with that in mind, and be quick to delete any words or phrases you’ve identified as not worth sending.
Beware the unintended typo. One misspelled or missing word can change everything. This step is extremely important, so put on your editor's glasses. Here’s an example: You mean to say, “I know you’re not trying to be adversarial, but…” But instead you say, “I know you’re trying to be adversarial…” That missing “not” will mess up your day. The other person now gets his back up because you’ve basically said this is all his fault. Be very careful to read and reread what you write, and then…
Get a second opinion. Find a confidant to read what you’ve written and give you honest feedback. Make sure it is someone you trust to be honest with you because this exercise will be useless if you ask someone who tells you what you want to hear. You want to know how what you said will come off to another person before you send it to the recipient. You might not realize how a phrase can come off unintentionally as offensive or nasty. That won’t resolve anything and could make the situation worse. Take the feedback and then repeat the risk-reward exercise, making any necessary edits or deletes.
Go ahead and hit “send.” When and only when you are comfortable with what you wrote and are prepared that there could still be repercussions, go ahead and send it.
Follow up with a phone call or visit. There is nothing like in-person contact, so follow up with a visit if logistically feasible. If not, at least make a phone call if you don’t hear anything back within a reasonable amount of time. You want to make sure the other person does not harbor ill feelings toward you and that this exchange resolved the issue so you can both move on. You don't want to burn bridges or this whole process just wasted your time. Try to find some compromise between the two of you so you both can walk away feeling like you’ve won and so you’re able to work together in the future.
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