E-Mail Screws Up Another Relationship

Last week, I got into a huge fight with one of my coworkers at ETR.

Okay – so inter-office bickering isn’t news. What was so weird about this “fight” was that I didn’t know about it. Until, that is, I got a phone call from “Sam” saying, “I can’t believe how nasty you are being about this.” Then I got an earful.

We’ve talked before in ETR about how important it is to be clear and specific in your writing. And that means your e-mails, too.

Sam had sent me an article he’d written. I made a few suggestions, and he didn’t agree with one of them. “I want to keep this the way I had it,” he wrote in his e-mail to me. I could see his point, so I wrote back, “Sure. I don’t really care.”

What I meant was that it was a small point, and nothing he had to anguish over. Had I been speaking to him on the phone or in person, he’d have known from my tone that I wasn’t upset in the least.

But what I meant doesn’t matter … because Sam interpreted my e-mail to mean that I thought he was wasting my time. That my way was right – and if he didn’t think so, I’d get in a snit about it.

The situation degenerated from there. He didn’t send me the final article. So a few days later, I asked for it.

He sent it over, and I noticed that he’d implemented the change I’d suggested. Curious about why he’d changed his mind, I e-mailed, “I thought you were going to keep this the way you originally had it?” That’s when I got the frustrated phone call.

We’ve since worked things out. But that little experience reminded me just how important it is to be crystal clear in your e-mails. Spell out exactly what you want. Don’t leave anything to interpretation. And – even though it may not always be professional – the occasional smiley face or exclamation point can soften an otherwise cold, impersonal e-mail … and help convey the friendly tone you are going for.

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