E-mail has become an acceptable way to address sensitive issues. Disagreements between co-workers, family members, and friends can all be brought up in an e-mail. But trying to resolve an argument through your inbox can set you up for a broken relationship.
In my former life as an administrator, I’d often be surprised to fire up my computer in the morning and see angry e-mail from a co-worker. Sometimes these messages came out of nowhere and sometimes they were the result of a previous conflict. No matter the circumstances, I’ve learned the hard way that sending a quick, emotional response via e-mail only makes the situation worse.
Instead of hastily clicking the “send” button, try these six habits for more effective e-mail communication about a difficult subject.
1. Sleep on it.
Seriously. Write a draft, but before you send it sleep on it and see if you feel differently in the morning. It’s almost a truism that if I read a message that upsets me and I respond in the moment, I’m never as sensitive or reasonable as I ought to be. Instead, just letting it wait until the morning and revisiting it after I’ve calmed down helps revise my words so that I don’t say something to unnecessarily cause conflict. If you can’t wait overnight to reply, then at least wait a few hours or go for a walk before you send it.
2. Get a second opinion.
You might actually ask a friend, co-worker, or family member to read the message and give you feedback. Make sure you talk to someone you trust. They have to give you both honest feedback and keep it confidential. But getting a second opinion almost always allows me to see blindspots and make improvements to my message.
3. Ask yourself if an e-mail is the best way to respond.
It might make more sense to address the conflict in a medium other than e-mail. Maybe a phone call is better so you can ask clarifying questions, and the other person can hear your tone of voice and ask questions of you. Even better, a face-to-face meeting allows two people much more opportunity to communicate through non-verbal signals. Plus, the gesture of setting up a personal meeting communicates that your relationship to the other person is important.
4. Check the length.
The longer an e-mail is, the more there is to digest. This can easily lead to confusion, frustration, or even simple fatigue on the recipient’s part. Get to the point. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t adequately address the subject in a shorter message, go back and review #3.
5. Remember it’s about restoring the relationship, not winning an argument.
The goal of your message is to bring peace between you and the other person. Be careful not to write as if you want to win the argument, instead write as if you want to win the person. This means addressing a person’s perceptions and emotions first. You may not agree with their logic, but you can’t ignore their feelings.
6.Pray about it.
Any conflict is really a heart issue. Before you respond to a person, ask God for the right disposition and spirit to respond. It’s often the case with me that pride, defensiveness, and selfishness motivate my message instead of love, grace, and faith.
Before you send that angry e-mail, make sure you take your time and focus on restoring the relationship. Your response may take longer to formulate, but it’s worth it to turn a conflict into an opportunity to grow closer to another person.