Take That Extra Breath With Email

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Email has proven through the years to be a convenient and efficient tool for communicating with bosses, colleagues, clients, vendors, friends and other groups and individuals. Email is also a tool that creates misunderstanding, conflict, a desire for immediate gratification (aka rapid response), and a way to defer answering a question, taking action and avoiding commitments.

Much has been written about the proper and effective way to communicate via email: using a clear subject line that avoids the spam folder trap; short sentences, clear and to the point; and creating a call to action or requesting an unambiguous decision. When not carefully considering the receiver of your communication, the game of email ping-pong ensues and will continue unabated until such time it will require a (heaven forbid!) phone call, or if really dire, a face-to-face conversation.

Another challenge is that we get scores of emails every day. This can put a crimp on productivity by distraction or lack of focus on other matters. If you are like some people, you don’t want an email to remain unopened. It could be an annoying solicitation or you were cc’d unnecessarily on a matter that is not relevant to you. So with work deadlines looming and back-to-back meetings mixed in, email becomes less of a convenience and more of a stress factor.

Handling the Unwelcome Email

What about an email that makes you confused, frustrated or angry? How many times does a simple misinterpretation or lousy timing cause a situation to needlessly escalate?

A cardinal rule in regular conversation is to take an extra second to think through a comment you want to make. Will your response be disproportionate? Should you quickly change the topic? Could your initial response result in a deterioration of the relationship?

The same thought processes should be applied in an email exchange. If an email makes you angry, the last thing you should do is send out a quick reply that reflects your mood at that very moment. Get up from your desk, look out the window; take a walk; get a cup of coffee; have a quick conversation with a friendly colleague  – anyone of these can improve your emotional state.

If you feel to vent, draft an email. Do not put in a subject line and do not put in an email address — you do not want to take the chance of accidentally sending it. Walk away and clear your head for a few minutes. Go back and reread the email you drafted. If you have cooled down and have carefully considered the meaning behind the original email you received, draft a reasonable response that is devoid of sarcasm, anger, innuendo or personal attack. Then take another few moments to determine if your response will be received positively, even if it just contains questions seeking clarification.

If your action results in a response you believe has heightened the tension, refrain from responding again.

As much as you would like to be on the “giving end,” be the more mature person and let your silence be an influential factor.

If the person is in the same office location, get up, take a deep breath, think of a clever and non-threatening opening line as you drop by his or her office and knock on the door. If the other person is in a different location, set up a Google Hangouts or Skype video call so that your facial expressions are in sync with how and what you want to convey in the conversation. It’s a good bet that the situation will be resolved. After all, how would we have handled delicate situations before technology?


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.