When an Email Exchange Turns Ugly

Hayon Thapaliya

It was Monday morning and Lee opened his inbox to find an email from his manager: “Lee, I’ve decided to have Carlos present to the governing board, instead of you. I’m sure you’re good with this.”

Lee had spent the entire weekend preparing for the presentation. Not only did he know the numbers inside and out, he was also excited to get some face time with the board. Performing well would be a good move for his career. So, no, Lee wasn’t really “good with this.” He was crushed, defeated, and felt betrayed. But could he really say that in an email? And if he did, would anything change?

We’ve all had surprises like this show up in our email. I call them “email landmines.” Hidden among most of the safe emails we receive each day are a handful of digital doozies that quickly turn conversation into conflict.

Below are six categories of email landmines you’ve likely seen before. These seemingly innocent communications signal that an otherwise routine exchange is about to escalate.

  • Drive by: When someone uses email to make a demand or announce a controversial decision and hopes nobody responds. While it may be an honest mistake in a situation where there is ambiguity over who owns decision rights, it still feels like the sender is intruding on your turf.
  • Drama dodging:When someone uses email to avoid the “people side” of a conflict. They’d rather interact with the keyboard, instead of with a coworker. Again, many of us get so caught up in our tasks that we forget we’re dealing with people. But the end result of these emails is that the recipient often feels ignored or disrespected.
  • Wearing a wire: Using email as an underhanded way to get everything in writing, perhaps to create a shareable paper trail. This landmine may also include the naïve sharing of sensitive information that has no place in a written exchange.
  • Pontificate on a position: When someone lays out their arguments in excruciating detail so as to not have to deal with questions, disagreements, or interruptions. There’s a time and place to flesh out your logic in writing. But email is not typically it. It can be infuriating to open an email to find a five-paragraph treatise.
  • Convenience mail: Using email because the alternatives would require scheduling a meeting, making a call, or simply getting up from the chair. We all make this error from time to time. After all, one of email’s most winning virtues is convenience. However, when you’re on the receiving end, these emails feel inconsiderate, unnecessary, and self-important.
  • Typed tirade:When someone launches an attack from the safety of their cubicle, saying things they’d never dare say in person. We’re all familiar with these because most of us have been guilty of doing it.

We can understand these landmines better if we look at them as dialogue disrupters. Successful email exchanges involve dialogue. We use the exchange to add to a pool of shared meaning. The more information we have in the pool, the better prepared we are to make decisions and get results.

via HBR.org http://ift.tt/2CSNMBp

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