I stumbled across my Draft email box folder the other day. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the folder tucked beneath the more frequently used and important Inbox and Sent Items in an email program. It probably has a pretty hefty number beside it, which represents the number of emails written but never sent. At least in my case the number was pretty high, and I knew many had been languishing there for a while.
I had time to do some housekeeping, so started clicking through them. It was like taking a walk down corporate memory lane. There was the note I hastily put together accusing one of my colleagues of not doing something. There was the other email I crafted imputing wrong motives on one of the project members of my team. Ah, here was a good one…this one was escalating on someone who was about a week late on a deliverable. Not only did I include their manager, I included their manager’s manager as well. That was going to show them. Here was another one where I had jumped to a certain conclusion prematurely and finally, one where I was right in the middle of telling someone off.
Thankfully, these emotionally charged skeletons never made it out of the closet. I couldn’t even remember who some of them were intended for, since I am not in the habit of putting the person’s name in the To: field until the email is done (I’ve accidentally clicked Send too early, too many times). For whatever reason, I had hesitated in sending them. When something doesn’t feel right, it’s wise to let some time pass. In hindsight, I was sure glad they were still there. There are far better ways to communicate with your team than to rely on email.
Most of the issues that had prompted me to write each email had been resolved in just a day or two by other means. Those tidy resolutions would most likely have not occurred on the heels of a blaming, accusing, escalating, or aggravating email.
What’s the point? Save a draft, and be careful to not hit the Send button too soon.
Emails Can’t be Recalled.
Correction: they can be recalled but it doesn’t work so well. I’m not sure about you, but anytime I get a notice that someone wants to recall an email, I look extra hard at the original text to see what they didn’t mean to send. Yes, probably a childish guilty pleasure, but a recall notice just makes my antennae perk up. So, effectively, emails can’t be recalled.
Even better than saving a draft or sending a heated email prematurely, is to consider that it may not be appropriate to send at all. In my experience, you don’t send an email at the following times:
- When You’re Mad – You just had an altercation with one of your colleagues in another department. You know that what they’ve been telling the President of the company is not accurate. They’ve twisted things around to make themselves look better, and unfortunately have thrown your project and project management skills under the bus. Their accusation is that it’s your miss, not theirs, that has caused deliverables to be late. You know this is patently false but there’s no reasoning with the guy. He’s bending the President’s ear every chance he gets in order to stay out of the hot seat.You’re ticked off at the end of this conversation and head back to your weapon of choice…the keyboard. You start hammering out an email at 120 words per minute that’s going to set this guy straight. STOP! This is not the best time to write an email.
- When You’re Frustrated – You’ve been trying to get resources freed up for your upcoming project. You know exactly who you want to use based upon their skillset, ability to work with others, and experience with the client. You know this is the best person for the project, but you are offered someone else because your first choice is tied up on another project for the next few months. Worse, the project they are working on, from your perspective, is not nearly as important as the project you want them on. You’ve been negotiating for a couple of weeks only to find that you’ve just been beating your head against the wall.Again, you head to your keyboard and start typing away. You use phrases like “this project is not as important” and “this resource is not as good” and other subjective expressions rooted in your frustration. STOP! This is not the best time write an email.
- When You’re Defensive – You just walked away from a meeting where you got your butt kicked. Someone called you out for a mistake in front of everyone. You had no good answer at the time and sat there like a deer caught in the headlights. Fortunately, the subject changed and everyone moved onto another topic. Unfortunately, it didn’t change quickly enough and your credibility and reputation got dinged a bit.Well, you are going to have nothing of the sort. You head back to your keyboard and go down the list of everyone that attended the meeting. You were backed into a corner and are going to set matters straight with a litany of facts and who-knew-what-when snippets. STOP! This is not the best time to write an email.
Emotionally charged emails never translate well or keep the level of professionalism a project manager needs to maintain. Open up a Word document if you feel like you need to get something down on paper. Sort out your thoughts, think through the issue, come up with solutions…but don’t send anything to anyone.
Deal with these Situations Face-to-Face
Here are 3 reasons why you should avoid sending those emails. The benefits are profound:
- Emotion Translates Well in Person – So you are frustrated that you can’t get the resource you want for your next project. How much more effective will that conversation be if you sit directly across from the person who can make that decision? They’ll see your passion, your interest in making the project a success, and your conviction. These are all things that are hard to convey in the two-dimensional, black and white world of email.
- You Won’t Regret Sending Something – Remember, sent email can’t be recalled. You can’t go around to people’s Inboxes and hit delete. Plus, you never know who the email will be forwarded to. I’ve had emails come back to haunt me for months from sources that I thought would never have been involved in an issue. Someone forwarded it to someone else who forwarded it to someone else and it finally came full circle back to me.
- Results in a Better Solution – Dealing with someone in person while you are not mad, frustrated, or defensive almost always ends up in a better solution. A couple of cool heads thinking through a problem are better than a host of hotheads firing off nasty emails to each other.
What does your Draft email folder look like? Hopefully you’ve got a couple skeletons that never made it out of the closet. Take a walk down your workplace’s memory lane and reflect on how things ended up being resolved and handled. I guarantee you’ll be glad you didn’t hit Send. Deal with issues in person and save the wear and tear on your keyboard!
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