Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Never the angry email

This morning I was biking my warmup at the gym when the TV showed a comical video of baseball player Carlos Gomez attempting to beat up the outer padding on a wall.  After kicking the padding out of anger, he then spent some time trying to fix it, to no avail, all of which was captured on live TV.

I'm not a baseball player, but the equivalent I could think of doing in my line of work is sending an angry email.  I've sadly made that mistake before, dashing off a nasty stream of ones and zeros in the heat of the moment.  If you haven't done so, good for you, and I recommend you never do.  I won't deny that anger exists, but just like Carlos kicking the wall, using it to lash out via email is stupid.

Angry emails do nothing for you.  For starters, the anger never translates well because you get no feedback like you would in a conversation.  If you started to speak angrily towards someone and they reacted, that reaction would likely temper your future words.  You would get a chance to explain yourself.  An angry email, on the other hand, is like a grenade.  It just explodes and causes frag damage, regardless of the other person's reactions.

The other nasty thing about email is it has a tendency to get forwarded around.  It's unlikely that someone will remember your words verbatim, and if you start a conversation angry but finish on a more pleasant tone, the overall feeling will possibly not be heated.  However, an angry email will be read over and over again, continually making the other party angry.  Forwarded on, you can't deny you sent it, and you'll have to own up to it.

Angry emails typically come because:

1. Someone does something stupid and makes you mad.
2. Someone sends you a nasty email.

If you have case number one, you are better off giving verbal feedback face to face.  I recommend using the Effective Feedback model from Manager Tools.  You ask to give the person feedback, tell that person what they did wrong, why it was wrong and ask for change.  For example, say your co-worker was supposed to take out the trash and didn't.  Find that person and say "Hey Mark, when you don't take out the trash, it tells me you don't care about pulling your weight on our team. Can you fix that in the future?"  This gets the issue off your chest and ensures the other person gets just the facts, while also asking them to change.

For a response to nasty emails, your best bet is to smother the writer in kindness.  I recently had one where the person was angry because I inquired into the status of something they were late on, and the person's response was fairly snippy.  Rather than jump down that individual's throat, I responded back that I was really happy they explained the correct process to me and that I looked forward to fixing the problem with them in the future.  We now continue moving forward on solving the problem, rather than continuing the blame-game.

This works well for peers and bosses, but what about subordinates?  If you get anger from someone who works for you, I recommend seeking them out and getting details.  Yes, it might seem justified to drop kick them electronically, but you'll probably do more damage then good.  They may just suck at writing, and clamping down harshly could ensure you never get any feedback from them in the future.  The only time this is justified is if the person is deliberately insubordinate via email and purposely copies a multitude of other folks on the email.  At that point, you're best served with a one line reply to all saying "Come to my office."  I've seen my former boss do this once with an idiot LT who didn't understand that arguing via email with the CAPT in front of others, especially when you're wrong, will not end well.  The LT lost, and the CAPT's simple reply reflected his maturity and increased his standing with everyone on the original email.

Anger is gift.  It gives you a massive amount of focus and energy to devote to a problem.  Used unwisely, it is simply energy spent destroying whatever or whomever happens to be around you.  But used wisely, it helps you block out unnecessary stimulus and stay pointed towards what really matters.  Let anger be your friend, not your undoing.