In a recent post, I talked about how easy it is to misunderstand the tone and intent of email without the verbal and body language cues we pick up when talking in person. As a result, it’s easy to feel defensive and respond hastily to business emails. Sometimes, there is just too much at stake, so I suggest you simmer before sending, and further that you:
First, re-read or reconsider the email, conversation or other matter you’re responding to. This is important even when you’re not angry. All too often, we read information, especially emails, quickly the first time and craft a response mentally before done. It’s a good idea to read again and verify facts. If the email caused anger or concern, it’s also a good idea to read it again after cooling off to check tone.
Most importantly, take some time to compose one’s self before writing, and especially sending, a response. Take a walk or switch to another project briefly to clear your head.
When reviewing your message, watch for inflammatory wording. Try to replace it with a more positive, reconstructive approach. Otherwise, you could just escalate a situation that was mostly harmless from the start.
Remember your etiquette. When in a hurry and upset, you might forget the critical greetings and closings that all email messages should contain. They’re even more important if your message could be perceived as terse in its content. Be sure to include a clear, but polite subject line, along with an appropriately polite and professional greeting and closing.
To avoid sending a hasty email response, especially accidentally, try this trick: Get in the habit of filling in your recipient line after composing your messages. Doing so keeps you from hitting send and regretting it later. It also can help avoid some of the problems associated with auto-filling of recipients, by the way. You’re much more likely to pay attention to how the line fills once you’ve settled down, written and reviewed your message.
Finally, it’s probably best to avoid conflict in email messages, so consider whether you should respond to situations that might escalate in this manner or deal with them in person. You might consider responding with a request to meet in person, or wandering down the hall to a colleague’s office once you feel settled and ready to talk.