Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

The immediacy of email changed the working world forever, and overwhelmingly for the better. But with immediacy comes responsibility, says Jeff Haden.

Hand on mouse

Your Real Message Gets Lost

Give me constructive feedback – feedback because you’re interested and want me to improve. I may not love it, but I'll listen. Scold me, and all I'll focus on is the criticism. The meat of the message becomes lost.

Context Disappears

Without body language, without tone of voice, without all the clues we use to determine whether a person is being sarcastic or humorous or clever or mean-spirited, the recipient is left to his or her own devices – and when in doubt, the recipient often assumes the worst.

And when the recipient assumes the worst from an email, you aren't there to notice… or to correct any misunderstandings.

Conflicts Escalate

We’ve all been there. Receiving a snarky email and spent an hour crafting and fine-tuning a response.

And then you got another email back… and there’s no way you’re letting that go. Soon whatever the actual problem was is forgotten – all that matters is trying to "win".

Which, of course, means you both lose – and so does your work environment.

Be the Ellen of email.

– Jeff Haden

Words Last Forever

You may not save particularly hateful emails that you've received. But if you've sent one to one of your employees, they probably saved it.

And they definitely pull it up once in a while and re-read it, especially when times are tough.

Email creates a permanent record, ensuring that while an emotional outburst may in time be forgiven, it is rarely forgotten.

So what should you do? Be the Ellen of email. Whether you enjoy her talk show or not, Ellen DeGeneres is always positive. She laughs with people, not at them. Even her sarcasm is laced with a dollop of humanity. The old cliché "I kid because I care" actually seems true in her case.

And that's how your emails should be. 

MANAGING EMAIL FRUSTRATION
  1. Go ahead and write it… but save it. Let the heat of the moment pass. Come back to it tomorrow. Make sure you still feel the same. You may – but once you've cooled off, you'll almost always decide not to express your feelings the same way. Better yet...
  2. Discuss the issue in person. Here's a simple rule of thumb. If what you have to say can in any way be construed as negative, say it in person. Don't fire a one-way missile. Though face-to-face may be less comfortable than hiding behind email, the outcome will always be better. And if you receive an emotional email...
  3. Break the chain. Don't fire back when you get a critical email. Don't continue an email tennis match, especially with an employee or worse, a customer. Get on the phone, or if possible, respond in person. You'll be much more sensitive to the other person's feelings – and much more likely to actually resolve the problem while keeping a professional relationship and positive work environment intact.
It's too easy for messages to be misunderstood over email.

That's why Jeff Haden prefers to talk face-to-face.

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