I did something I’m kind of sheepish about over the weekend. We have hired a delightful woman who works for us part-time. She is a very talented graphic designer and she is helping us stay organized and perform tasks in a variety of areas.
Here’s what happened: I was going through our Asana tasks (for those of you who are not familiar with Asana, it is an awesome task management web and mobile application that is great for teams or individuals) and just checking in on various projects that she had completed, and looking at the week ahead.
I came across one particular task and wanted to do a spot check. My role as her manager is to assign tasks and provide the freedom to complete these tasks in her own way and at a pace that suits her and our deadlines, but I also owe a duty to my clients to ensure that these jobs are being handled to the level of quality and service that is befitting of our company. In addition, as this employee is still new to our company, I want to ensure that she is getting the training that she needs from me, so before work goes out, I will often review it, or I will do the odd spot check on work to ensure that it has been done correctly.
My spot check on this particular web-based task revealed that the link was not displaying at all. In a quick moment of panic I sent this employee a note, thanking her for doing the work but letting her know that I had noticed that it was not working correctly, and asking her to fix it right away on Monday. I also inserted a quick reminder into the email to be sure that she doubled checked her work going forward.
Now, honestly, none of this is particularly that bad. I sent her a nicely toned email; I didn’t berate her or try to make her feel incompetent. Generally, my reminder to double check work is valid and a good rule to follow. Unfortunately, once I sent off the email and went back to my browser to close it down, I noticed that the link was in fact working. Apparently the content was a bit larger and had taken a few seconds longer than I had given it to load. So of course, I felt bad that I had sent this employee an email at all. I sent her a quick apology, explaining what had happened, and when she came in on Monday, I also offered up a verbal apology to ensure that the air was clear. No damage done, thank goodness, but it’s so easy for this kind of thing to spiral into something worse, so here are some takeaways:
1) Set the intention of your email before you write it. In this circumstance, I wanted this to be a teachable moment and avoid having this type of thing happen again. I also wanted my employee to know that I valued the fact that she had completed the task, even if it hadn’t been done exactly as I wanted (well…we now know it was!). The intention of your email shouldn’t be to berate or belittle someone, so make sure that it doesn’t come across that way. Which leads me to my next point…
2) Lead with a positive tone. When communicating by email (or verbally for that matter) you can either do good or do damage. My suggestion is to try to use a positive tone from the start, even if you are delivering negative feedback. I can be proud of the email that I sent her, as it started with a “Thank you for getting that job done, great work…I did however notice a small issue”. Much nicer than if I’d started with “I can’t believe what a mess you’ve made!” Imagine how that would have made her feel and how that could lead to a damaged relationship between us.
3) Take a step away, reread, and take a deep breath before hitting send. I’m not sure that I would have thought to go back and check the link again just to be sure that it wasn’t working – perhaps I will now that I’ve learned my lesson. I wish that I had taken just another few minutes before pushing send, or had come back to it, but at the very least, I can be happy that with doing items 1 and 2 above that I was able to avoid any longstanding damage.
If you are sending some feedback out or sending out an email that is particularly charged, I strongly recommend that you take a step away from the email for awhile after you’ve written it, and before you send it. If you feel the message could really have a negative impact on the other side, or if you are feeling particularly angry or upset, why not save the email and park it until tomorrow. You might find that after a good night’s rest you feel quite differently about the matter. At the very least, get up, get a glass of water or just walk around a little first.
When you come back to it – reread it. Perhaps double-check your facts, or even have someone else read the email for tone.
Lastly, take a deep breath before you hit send. If you still have any angst over sending it, then again ask yourself why – trust your next-day judgment; perhaps the message isn’t quite right, or it doesn’t need to be sent at all.
4) Take responsibility and be prepared for a reaction. Once you’ve hit send, it might be appropriate to follow up in person. If it’s a colleague or employee, you might ask them if they received your email and if they had any questions. And by all means, if you’ve made a mistake, make sure you take responsibility for it and own it, don’t forget to say you’re sorry!
So… in my case, no longstanding damage was done, no relationships were ruined, but it was a good reminder to me going forward. Email communication is fast and simple, but your words can be so easily be misconstrued or sent without realizing their impact. Sometimes a good old fashioned phone call or face-to-face may be the best action.
Looking for another cool option to send a message to someone? There is this neat web site where you can dictate a message and attach it to an email – the perfect way to communicate exactly the tone you want: www.vocaroo.com.