Abstain from Any Problematic Writing
To add to my earlier “Got Email Etiquette?” post, I can testify that out of all futile messages in the corporate world, we managers most hate seeing people argue endlessly via email. That is one plain, home-brewed, counterproductive distraction.
Always exercise caution when replying to a seemingly annoying email message. If you feel offended and “inspired” to shoot back a fierce reply right away, don’t. It’s better to do it later when you calm down. Throughout my career I wrote a number of angry email replies, but I never sent them. I always saved the message as a draft and changed it later. To clear my mind, I’d focus onto one of many other things I had to do. I’d wait a few hours, or even better, following the old saying that the morning is smarter than the evening, I’d sleep on it. Then it’s easier to write a much better reply in the morning with a cool head, or sometimes I wouldn’t reply at all.
Abstain from Replying (If Possible)
Sometimes it is wiser not to reply at all if there’s nothing to be achieved and if your reply is not required. Pick your battles and pick your “weapons”. This leaves your angry correspondent wondering what’s going on and reflecting upon whether they can achieve anything this way. In one case my angry “opponent” (now still a good friend) sent a much calmer and apologetic email within a day from their initial flaming message. If you have to reply, do it next day if possible. Then first re-read the message that offended you and check whether you misunderstood anything. Then re-read your own draft, edit and take out any insulting and sarcastic pieces and try to rewrite everything into an impartial and contributing email that may end further discussion in the best possible way and be constructive, contributing, and acting as a flame retardant instead of a flame accelerator. Your managers, friends or coworkers will be grateful to you and you won’t let your writing work against you in the future.
Don’t Be Trigger-happy with “Reply to All” Button
Once we had to use disciplinary action against a person who got annoyed with another technician in a heated email discussion and replied to all that he’d never again serve their part of the organization. This message reached many people initially copied with the discussion, including some managers. Need I say that the only certain way to get in trouble deeper than by just saying you won’t act as a professional (and not do what you’re paid to do) is to put all that in writing and to copy many affected people?
On rare occasions when there was a conflict among staff at work, I kept repeating to the involved persons that one may dislike a person and never want to talk to them about anything outside work, but everybody has to be professional and be able to productively discuss work matters and work together on resolving issues in the employer’s best interest. What’s typical in the above example is that both guys were otherwise great contributors and quite passionate and proud of their work, so sometimes pride mixed with misunderstanding can be a recipe for trouble (although I’ve also seen a few rotten apples who always tried to shake work off of their back). The rest is up to flaring personalities.
Misunderstandings Are The Frequent Source of Trouble
Communication is crucial, but good communication. Discuss things with your coworkers and customers and keep them well informed, particularly if your work affects them and remember that misunderstanding is the most frequent origin of many conflicts. Try to be courteous and respectfully resolve issues over the phone or in a meeting. Email messages are often based on assumptions of their authors. Remember that communicating verbally in person or over the phone offers more immediate feedback and it can prevent deeper misunderstandings. That way you can sometimes notice fine signals your collocutor reveals through voice tone and body language and react/explain when he or she is for any reason not happy with what you are saying. That way you can invest some energy into clearing the misunderstandings instead of pouring gasoline on fire by maintaining and increasing them.
Not accepting email ping-pong “fights” has several times throughout my career earned me praises from my bosses. Remember, no manager wants to see an email discussion grow into an uncontrollable message war. We have more important things to do than read accusations, defenses and offenses. We want things to go smooth. If there is a misunderstanding, resolve it outside of written communication, and do it wisely. Ask your supervisor to get involved whenever it seems things could get out of hand. Don’t let your emotions control you and lead you to a point of no return. Your email is a written document that can be saved and used in any circumstances, so always write as if your message may be published in a newspaper and don’t write anything you might later regret.
Remember that cooler heads prevail. If things are getting ugly, take the high way. Staying on top instead of taking part in a heated discussion can save a lot of energy and avoid future frustration, and it can show who’s in control and who’s out of control. Never be the latter. Be the former.