‘Morning guys’ – the email starts.
‘Quick observation that is really getting on my tits’.
Then it gets worse.
And even worse.
It ends with a pretty clear direction – ‘YOU BETTER UP YOUR GAME OR YOU WILL FEEL MY WRATH…’.
This, thankfully, is not an email I received. It was something a delightful* (not delightful), Sydney boss sent to his team last week, in an attempt to address what he viewed, as less than stellar performance (you can read the full email here).
There is a lot to unpack from this situation, and many angles you could take.
Its everything from deep empathy for the experience of the poor team being spoken to like this, right up to feeling the level of frustration that the boss had to have been at to send an email like this (and perhaps a thought ‘there by the grace of god go I’) …
No matter the lens you look through, I am (royal flush) confident, that we would agree that this is not an example of ‘what good looks like’.
Which got me thinking.
Most times, we are good at moderating our email tone, regardless of the message.
Sure, emails can be the HQ for the passive aggressive Olympics, (nothing like a ‘gentle follow up’ email accompanied by a smiley face emoji), but 99.9% of things we send and receive are pretty vanilla in message, language, and (to be just a little cynical), inspiration.
So, what about the 0.01%?
The times where something happens that makes your mind explode, resulting in your reptilian brain taking charge and hitting ‘send’ on that email containing ‘what you really think’.
The times you ignore advice to ‘sleep on’ an email before you send it.
The times that you write something less than flattering about someone else, and then accidently CC them in.
The times where pressing ‘recall email’ eleventy billion times, does not work (let’s be honest, has the ‘recall email’ feature ever, EVER, worked when needed?).
What do you do when that brain explosion, that should never have seen the light of days, lands in someone’s inbox? Three simple things.
This is not to time to shy away. Or make excuses. Or hack into the system and delete the email.
Get in front of it and own it. Preferably face to face, or via a call.
Explain to the person you made a mistake and that you are sorry for sending the email.
Have the uncomfortable discussion about why you said what you said (perhaps this could be a silver lining – a chance to resolve the issue) and understand that the other person may be upset and ‘not ok’ with it straight away. Accept you are going to have to make the effort and take the lead on rebuilding the relationship.
Own, that if the email was REALLY bad (like our friend above), or if it falls within a broader pattern of poor behaviour, there could be some not so nice consequences for you.
While this bit won’t be fun, it’s a good way to try and manage the damage that is created.
Learn from it
Most of us don’t wake up and just ‘decide’ to send a crappy email to someone. Instead, these emails come from when our ego, anger or frustration take over. What this means is that the often important and real stuff we are trying to say, gets lost in the overall sloppiness of the email experience.
Learn from the bad email experience, and grow out of it, into someone that finds a good way to raise what is most important to them.
Don’t do it again
Even if you think you got away with it scot free. Remember that sinking when you realised you stuffed up, and don’t let yourself go there again.
The big lesson?
Sending the bomb email (or text, or slack message or snapchat) is never a good idea. No matter how good it may feel in the instant. Or how ‘right’ you are. I have never (ever) seen or have heard of, something like this going right. What I have heard a lot about is the aftermath.
But we are human. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we do stupid, and shitty stuff.
The good news is that, most times, if you do the right thing normally, and a crappy email is an outlier not your normal MO, situations like this are most recoverable with a bit of honesty, humility, and time.
One last thing.
The ‘sleep on it before you send it’ trick rarely lets you down.