Email Communications: Sending Difficult Emails

Yesterday's blog post on The Power of Positive Language got a few official and unofficial retweets, and generated some comments on Twitter. It reminded me of a couple of especially difficult emails that I've had to send over the years. Sometimes it's difficult to decide if a phone call or an email is the best way to hash out a disagreement. An email seems distant–maybe even cowardly–but at the same time it allows you to get all of your points across.

Of course, that begs the question: do you want to get all your points across? Doesn't Steven Covey teach us to Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood? If you send out an email detailing how right you are and how wrong the other person is, you've pretty much locked in the adversarial positions for the both of you. At that point there's no chance of a win-win outcome.

Still, if you've got no other options than to send out a difficult email (and you know what I'm talking about), take these steps before hitting send:

  • Take a deep breath. If it's really difficult, take ten, or a walk around the block, or a good night's sleep.
  • Start with a greeting, no matter how difficult the conversation's going to be. “Howdy!” or “Hope this finds you well” or whatever sounds natural to you isn't going to undermine the purpose of your message.
  • Rework any negative sentences so they say the same thing in a positive way. It may be that this relationship is still salvageable.
  • If you have multiple points on why you're right and they're wrong, delete and paste them into another document. I say this for two reasons: first, no one likes to be beaten over the head with the fact they're in the wrong. It paints them into a corner and all they can do is come out swinging. Give them an opportunity to save face. Secondly, it may turn out that you're not entirely right, either. In other words, don't play all of your cards on the first pass. If you list all ten reasons why you're in the right, and they come back with just one or two reasons why they're right, they've pretty much trumped your ten reasons with their two.

Hopefully these emails will be few and far between, and you'll be able to nip any problems in the bud, avoiding difficult emails and conversations. (Don't difficult conversations get more difficult the longer they fester?)

Rich Brooks
You Know I'm Right