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Submitted by SteveAnderson on


BLUF: Can feedback on email-related behaviors be given via email?

Background data:

  • My team is dispersed across four time zones.
  • Our primary method of communication is via email though we talk on the phone often.
  • O3s start in three weeks.
  • I have one person who has email behaviors that need correcting right away because our client is furious.  These behaviors include:
  1. Escalating issues inappropriately to the client and the client's leadership.
  2. Inflammatory and/or accusatory statements about other team members.
  3. Discussing internal matters that, while not a secret, are generally "dirty laundry" that lessen the client's credibility with their stakeholders.

I want to provide specific and timely feedback on this email-related behavior (although, admittedly, this is "feedback" before its time) and I'm not sure if it's appropriate or not to deliver that via email or to wait until I can reach her via phone.  Thoughts?

mattpalmer's picture

I love me my e-mail and IM, so it pains me to have to admit it, but: e-mail (or IM) is the wrong medium for this message.  It is *way* to easy to misread someone's intent via a text-only medium, and since you're having to deliver some negative content without the safety net of the solid relationship that O3s can help build, you're going to want to have every advantage you can possibly garner.  Do it over the phone.  Call this person (now!, or as soon as you can -- don't "schedule a meeting"), and tell them what they did, and the impact it has had.  Don't be angry, just matter of fact.  Keep your tone of voice neutral, and stick to behaviours, not feelings.

tlhausmann's picture
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Consider getting on a plane. When did you last meet with your direct face to face?

Definitely not by email.  Video conferencing is a step up from a phone call.

SteveAnderson's picture
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Good points - the fact that the immediate incidents I've been dealing with have been happening by email makes it seem like a good option yet after spending the day thinking it out, I'm realizing that email is just one medium where these behaviors take place.  What good does it do to get a direct writing awesome emails if the behavior persists in teleconferences, written reporting, etc.

Thankfully, I have a little bit of a buffer on the relationship side in that the people I manage were my peers up until a few months ago.  This has allowed for some ease in the growth but also caused some pain points as big, flashing, "I can fire you" sign on my forehead has lit up.


GlennR's picture

I would schedule individual calls not just to tell them not to do this, but to present the problem and gain their feedback (and thus buy-in on a solution.) This would, I hope facilitate building more effective relationships.

The use of email has greatly facilitated the ability to communicate among peers, customers, vendors, and from managers to directs. I understand the temptation to use it, given its cost effectiveness and ease, especially in global or national organizations such as the one in which I work. I use it as much as anyone.

However, it is only a tool, and one I see misused too often by managers who lack the courage to talk to people. The logic seems to be, "It's faster to send and email and I avoid a confrontation. Then I can get on to the next task on my list sooner."  Tasks don't always trump relationship building. Sometimes the "harder right" is to pick up the phone and have a conversation with a person. As opposed to the "easier wrong" of sending an email.

The expression "Hide behind a computer" is not one any manager wants used when speaking of his or her skills. Yet I continually see managers in my organization do that and I hear from people in other organizations with the same problem.

It ranks well down the list as a tool used to build effective relationship skills. It is hard to beat the human voice whether the meeting is face to face, on the telephone or in a video chat. The human voice invented tone. To paraphrase Obi Wan: "Use your voice, Luke!"

Here are three reasons why you wouldn't want to send an email introducing this topic. 1)Tone can be misinterpreted leading to a damaged relationship. 2) The recipient may miss the point entirely or fail to read the email in a timely fashion or at all. 3. It's too easy to send an email when you have not checked your emotions at the door.

The question I would ask in this situation is, "What is the most effective way I can communicate the seriousness of this issue and expect my directs to change their behavior?  Sending an email out would not be my first response. However, after I had had conversations with everyone I might send an email summing up the points so that everyone would have a written copy and I could refer back to it if I needed to.

(...And now back to my emails)