We have all been there.
We open our email inbox and discover a message that immediately rubs us the wrong way.
Such emails can take a lot of different forms: A coworker offers a lukewarm response to your request for assistance on a project. A family member expresses disapproval of a life-changing decision. A supervisor shrugs off your suggestion to fix a recurring problem. A direct report openly questions a new mandate you gave employees.
Upon reading these emails, our heart rate begins to rise, our muscles start to stiffen, and our blood reaches a boil. Our natural reaction is to immediately fire back with a scathing response pointing out why we are right and they are wrong.
I find myself in this position more than I would like to admit. I am trying to get better about allowing thorny emails consume my time and energy, but sometimes the temptation becomes too strong.
For example, last month a school board member emailed inquiring whether or not I had followed up on a question from a community member. "Of all the things I'm expected to do... this is what you are concerned about?" I thought to myself. Although the tone of the email wasn't overly critical, I took offense to the suggestion I wasn't doing my job correctly.
I proceeded to spend the next sixty minutes typing out (what I believed was) a perfectly calibrated response explaining not only why I had yet to provide a response, while also reminding the board member of the many other "more important" things currently consuming my time.
It took me about five minutes after pressing "send" to realize I should have stepped away from the email to let my emotions cool before responding. Not only would a private discussion with this board member have been the more mature response, the stress it caused to write the email drained my body of precious energy needed to perform my job at a high level for the reminder of the day.
Ultimately, how I chose to respond was not pushing our organization forward.
We have all heard this advice before, but it doesn't hurt to share again. In his book Culturize, Jimmy Casas reminds us, "If there is a concern or issue that needs to be addressed, it is better to have the conversation in person rather than via email. If you receive a contentious online communication, respond by asking if you can meet face-to-fact to discuss the concern."
Thanks to the impact social media has had on society, composing scorching rebuttals through the comfort of our keyboards has become the easiest way to deal with personality conflict. While it's nearly impossible to control how people solve issues in their personal lives, as leaders we need to continue to provide guidance to help employees effectively navigate differences in a professional setting.