Staying employed: Email – A keyboard is more damaging than a gun Part 2 of 3 series

Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Thomas Paine in 1796, in which he wrote: “Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.” This statement was the predecessor of the quote by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  It’s a proverb to suggest writing is more effective than military power or violence.

In 2015, we seldom use the quill or pen, we use the keyboard.

“A keyboard is more damaging than a gun.”

Before I delve into generic advice about avoiding the “Reply All” button or staying professional and not getting personal. You have to understand how email is a chess game. As soon as you hit send you may place your career in checkmate. This is not a “Like” on Facebook, it’s not a picture of something funny on your instagram account. This is documented statements relating to your work responsibilities. Work is how you pay for everything you need to live, so take it seriously.

Where to start. Email is recorded somewhere on a server/cloud…somewhere, and can be shared EVERYWHERE to ANYONE. So if you’re upset or mad at what someone just transmitted to you, your friends, manager or coworker in an email, DO NOT RESPOND, not immediately anyway.

When someone pulls me into an email thread and the blame starts to shape around me, I do five things.

1> I read the email at least three times. (I know I’m mad and when I’m mad, I miss things the first and second time I read the offending email. I need to understand everything that’s being said. I may be mad for no reason.)

2> Breathe to calm down. (I know I’m mad and I need to think clearly about my response.)

3> Examine and understand who the person included in the email and what does that say about the tone of the email. When someone is emailing you and all of a sudden they include the whole team, most times blame is coming your way. Be careful of anyone that publicly blames and criticizes you but privately praises you. Realize the people could be BCC(Blind Carbon Copied) on the email.

4> I reply to everyone they included in the thread but I also include other people who may be affected by the subject matter discussed. I know I said earlier, avoid Reply to All, but when you are responding professionally and not retaliating it shows that you’re a mature professional and you can handle a little pressure without being personal. I usually don’t like to include people but I do so to be inclusive and “align all the resources for transparency”. When you make that statement, it looks less like you’re retaliating.

5> When I reply to all, I remove everyone off the email until I’m ready to send. This way if I send by accident, the unfinished email is not being sent to anyone. I’ve done it before.

Before you start typing, ask yourself, “Can I have this discussion in person, offline?” Sometimes you can, if and only if it’s an email just to you, go to the person and have the discussion. After the discussion, put closure to the discussion by going back to your desk and drafting an email starting with, “Per our discussion, ….”. When you do this you do two things; you resolve the issue and you document the resolution. Blind copy yourself in this email, because in about a year when performance appraisals come out, some people might not remember exactly how this issue was resolved.

Writing the email…

You have to set the tone. When you reply to your coworker “Melissa”, Don’t type out,

“Melissa, You are wrong, blah blah blah”.

You should start the email with a neutral greeting;

“Good morning team,” “Hello team” or even “Good morning Melissa”.

When you say, “Melissa, blah blah blah”

Melissa is already on the defense. When you greet the team or Melissa it paints the picture that you’re in control, calm and intelligent.  The greeting inherently gives the notion that someone else messed up because you’re too calm to be the one messing up. If it’s a nature of hostility I quickly diffuse the tone and aggression. It’s not easy but this is my career and everyone on the receiving end of the email is watching you.

I look at who “Melissa” included on the email and that will tell me if I’m being “put on blast”. In layman’s terms I’m being blamed or embarrassed. You have to be careful when other people are suddenly on the email, understand why the author decided to all of a sudden include you…then read the entire thread to see what’s being said.

Don’t use these phrases at all:

“First of all…”

“I told you…”

“It’s not my fault…”

“The problem is…”

Try these phrases;

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

“For clarity, I’d like to give everyone an understanding of the other issues we may have to consider.”

“Going forward to properly align our expectations, we could try…”

“I see this as an opportunity for more collaboration.”

“I’m glad we have an opportunity to identify where we have not met expectations.”

“In the future, if we have an issue that occurs within my scope of responsibility, please call me directly.”

“I have to admit my disappointment, but I will make it my priority to resolve this issue.”

I pulled this advice from a website:

Being too formal

While formality remains crucial to professionalism, if you’re emailing a client you call by their first name in person, don’t revert to an honorific, such as Mr. or Mrs., in the email, Gottsman advises. Your email opening should always reflect your relationship with that person.
Becoming too informal too quickly

While an email thread can swiftly become short and friendly, starting off too informally — for example, saying “Hey Megan” instead of “Hello Ms. Smith” to a new contact — may seem disrespectful. “It can smack of a lack of professionalism that may cause people to wonder what else you don’t realize is important or take seriously,” Kallos says. Always start a conversation politely and formally, and follow the other person’s lead. Gottsman recommends waiting until they sign off using their first name to use it yourself.
Saying “to whom it may concern”

This greeting is the email kiss of death, Gottsman warns. “It shows you haven’t done your homework,” she says. “It’s so easy to find out who you need to talk to if you put in a little effort.” Taking the time to include a name will make your email feel more personal and less generic. If you can’t find a specific name, try something like “To the consumer affairs department” or “Dear hiring manager.”

Hitting “reply all”

Unless what you’re saying applies to absolutely everyone, respond only to the sender, Gottsman says. It’s annoying to receive one-sentence responses from 40 different people, especially if the topic isn’t relevant to what you’re working on.

Including too many personal details

No one wants to read through more than they need to, so keep emails concise and leave out personal details. “Business email etiquette developed because people want to hear about just business, not your cousin or grandmother,” Kallos says. Save your personal updates for another time.

Not monitoring your tone

“Since people can’t hear our tone of voice, we have to remember that all they have is the written word,” Gottsman says. “The writer needs to make sure that they are writing for the reader to understand.” This makes phrasing and formatting extremely important to clearly getting your point across. Always take the time to find the exact word that conveys what you mean, and only bold something if you’re ready to stand by it, Kallos says. “If you type it, you better mean it,” she adds. People will take things the wrong way, so avoid even giving them the chance to.

Asking questions that have already been answered

Asking unnecessary questions not only wastes the other person’s time, it shows that you didn’t pay attention to what they said the first time around. To avoid this, Kallos suggests answering emails point by point. “People love it because they know you’ve taken the time to address each and every one of their concerns,” she says.

Saying something over email that should be done face-to-face

Some things, such as offering criticism, can’t be said over email without creating a misunderstanding. Learn to recognize these situations, and pick up the phone or walk over instead of sending an email. “On email you don’t have the eye contact or the body language, so there are times you’ve got to add that personal touch,” Kallos says.

I pulled this advice from another website:

Do: Only reply to all when necessary.Remove those on the thread that do not pertain to your response. Most people feel they get enough email as it is. So, sending them unwanted mail will only annoy them.

Do: Be professional in your communications. Use good grammar and choose your words carefully. If writing is not one of your strong points, consider typing it in Word first, and then copying and pasting it into an email. Words’ spell check and built-in grammar help will alleviate most errors.

Do Not: Send poorly written emails. It makes you look unprofessional, uneducated, and gives off the impression that you do not care.

Do: Respond within 24 hours or sooner even if you don’t have an answer right away. At least let the sender know that you have received their message, and set an expectation for a follow-up.

Do Not: Take days, weeks, months to RESPOND!

Do: Send email when you are in a good frame of mind.

Do: Send email at appropriate times of the day.

Do Not: Send email late at night or after you have been drinking. For obvious reasons this can be a complete train wreck. I have seen it happen!

Do: Be very careful when replying from your mobile. The auto correct feature can be a killer, and lead to some real embarrassing emails.

Do Not: Send email without first reading it over a few times. Especially when sending from your smart device.

Lastly, just be careful. I’ve seen careers ruined because someone was angry and didn’t know how to effectively communicate. The funny thing is they were right but they included the bosses boss, bad move.

Email can potentially end a presidential campaign run, ask Hillary.



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