You have to stop getting into email wars with colleagues.
“When can we meet?”
If you get an an angry, curt or even confusing email from a coworker, this is what you write. No more, no less. Then pick a time to meet in person. If that can’t happen, get on the phone.
Chances are, you’re probably misinterpreting that email, which means that responding may make the problem worse. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who received the same statements interpreted their meaning correctly 73% of the time when they were delivered over the phone, but only 56% of the time (only slightly better than chance) when delivered over email. That’s because email senders “hear” the tone of their email — thinking they’re being funny or sarcastic or dry — as they type, but the person on the other end doesn’t “hear” that same thing.
Even if you’re not misinterpreting that nasty missive, it’s better to talk out the issue in person. “Email is good for very straightforward things like ‘the meeting is at 3,” says executive coach Marc Dorio, but not for anything emotional. For that, we need the non-verbal cues and tone you can only get from an in-person meeting: One study found that roughly two thirds of what people think a message means comes from nonverbal cues; the other one third from the actual words.
Here’s how to do handle that meeting. “Make sure that you convey to the other person that you really want a good working relationship, and that is why you wanted to talk in person to try to work things out,” says Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer.
Then follow this simple rule: “Seek first to understand, then be understood,” says Dorio. Try to understand the person’s issue by asking a lot of questions and listening to and watching the responses; convey that you understand their issue by repeating it back using a phrase like ‘what I hear you saying is X,” says Dorio. Then, “ask them if you can respond, and if it’s ok that you’re direct, even if it may be hard for them hear,” says career coach Hallie Crawford. “Get their permission and buy in to continue.”
Maybe the most important thing to remember, whatever happens: “Sometimes people say things in an unpleasant way because of stressors that they have in their lives that have nothing to do with you whatsoever,” says Palmer. In other words: It’s often not about you, so move on.
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