The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Andrea Sanders, Professor of English and Humanities at Chattanooga State.
Respect others, their feelings, and their work. Never use language intended to hurt or demean another person. You may think it is deserved, but more than likely you will discover – too late – that it is YOU who have misread either the message or situation to which you are responding. This leads to the next item….
Learn the difference between a reaction and a response – and refuse to be reactionary. A reaction is thoughtless and hasty, while a response is thoughtful and careful. Be sure to respond rather than react. One of the best things about emails is that they can be composed and then revised. If you react emotionally to an email, close it, mark it as “unread,” and give yourself some time to cool down before you reply. When you draft your response, stick to the facts.
Respond to the need, not the tone. Re-read it carefully and take out any “loaded” language that could be interpreted as an attack or a criticism. When you receive a reply, you may be surprised to find that all the heat in the original email was not intended for you but was a symptom of the writer’s own frustration. Instead of creating friction and animosity, you have now made a new best friend.
Always give your fellow professionals the respect and the response that they deserve. Ask yourself not: “What did they do wrong?” but “What did they do right?” Start there. How do you reply with a focus on what they did right and build from there and guide them to the next step so that they learn something, do something, and fulfill your request. Remember that people have different gifts and different talents. Respect that.
You may be frustrated by a co-worker who cannot understand how to do something that you consider simple – but remember that there are many things your co-worker can do that would leave you clueless! Remember that a wide variety of personnel and gifts give an organization its depth and richness — a “deep bench.”
Often in sports, the depth of the bench, not the local superstar, wins the championship. Isn’t it thrilling to see a game where the seven-foot centers are all getting blocked by the other team’s defense and then the six-foot player shoots the three-pointers from the outside to win the day? Don’t be the person who has the arrogance to assume that the shorter teammate “can’t play.” The team leader – and the organization – who values all types of people has the depth needed to win the championship.
Consider your audience and the purpose of the email. Is it just a quick response to a simple question from a friend? Or is a reply to an administrator that will later be used as documentation of protocol and sign-offs? Might it be printed and filed in a folder as a reference document? If an email will be used for future reference or documentation, you will want to use a more formal style and tone.
You will avoid the chatty opening and the humor. Instead, you will use the standard business letter format of opening with a single clear statement of the purpose of the email. Then, you will use topic headers and bullet-points to insure that your recipient will have a clear record of the content of the transaction.
Resolve to like your co-workers, to enjoy them, and to develop an attitude of gratitude. Let this show in your electronic communications. This is your decision to make. You have the brain and the will to choose to have an open heart and mind to everyone around you. Use your strength of will to help, to strive to understand, to see the other’s point of view, to find a way to resolve differences. Always be honest. Find ways to dust those corners where insidious rumors, whispers, and scuttlebutts live. Be humble. Be grateful.
Think about it: if you have co-workers you (a) have a job and (b) have friends. Many people are not so lucky. Glorify those around you; make them glow with pride. Nothing you ever experience will make you feel any better than that simple act will. Write as if you care about people and you will find that you do. Radiate warmth and you will bask in the warmth that returns to you. Walk a mile in other people’s shoes and you will rejoice that your shoes don’t seem quite as run-down any more.
Write each email with the goal of leaving the recipient more informed and more integrated into your professional network than he or she was before your email came. You have the power to instill confidence, to boost morale, to strengthen the supportive net beneath your co-workers with every email you send out. It is your choice whether to use that tool to maximize efficiency and good will or to allow it to weaken your organization with misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Make good use of this powerful tool!