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How to ensure you won’t send an e-mail you’ll regret

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Registration for 2018 has now opened! Register at www.employeerecommended.com.

Have you ever sent an e-mail in frustration that you later regretted?

E-mail is an easy way to create a commotion and say things you may not say in person. Why? When we e-mail, we don't have the person sitting or standing in front of us to filter out information or to hold us back. When we talk or confront someone in person, however, we can read their body language, go back in conversation to gain appreciation or perspective, and ask questions to fill in the blanks.

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When we don't self-edit thoughts in our e-mails – like we do in person – we risk sending messages that we might later regret. Self-editing refers to filtering emotion out of our e-mail. When this isn't done, we risk sending messages that are emotionally charged. These can erode relationships and trust, fuel unresolved conflict, and misrepresent what we really mean.

The purpose of this micro skill is to introduce the notion of self-editing e-mail.

The average office employee gets 121 e-mails a day, which equates to 605 each work week and 2,450 a month. E-mail has evolved from a communications tactic to a communications staple. With the vast number of e-mails, it's little wonder that many people are feeling overwhelmed as they try to tame their e-mail inbox.

Some estimate that the average employee spends a third of their time processing e-mails at work, as well as time after work hours to keep up. This creates additional stress and strains on their emotional energy. When our resiliency and energy reserves are down we are more at risk to react emotionally.

Awareness

If you have sent e-mails that you regret, then this micro skill will be a valuable skill to add to your toolbox.

Why people send unedited e-mails may be due to e-mail fatigue, personality type, lack of awareness that they're not filtering their conversation, or reacting to information. These are drivers that may spark an emotional e-mail response.

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Awareness is the first step to curbing a behaviour. When we press send on an unfiltered e-mail we often have a sense of what we want to happen or stop. However, we may not be fully aware of how our emotional state is shaping our words and how these words may be received, like we do when we speak in person. Remember, the person receiving your e-mail can only read your words, not the tone of voice in your head as you write them.

E-mail is an excellent way to communicate facts and ask for information; it's not the best method to communicate an emotional point of view or to further a debate.

Accountability

What we put in writing never goes away, and we own it. E-mail is forever. Expressing concerns without an emotional filter that's perceived as judgmental can result in issues you weren't expecting, such as damaging relationships or breaching a respectful workplace policy.

When we're upset it's common to want a resolution. That's why some people send an unedited response within a few moments of receiving a negative e-mail. Whenever you get information that's different from what you want and that creates an emotional response, this is a cue to allow yourself time for your emotions to calm down and your cognitive rational mind to catch up before responding.

Action

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Here are two simple self-editing rules that can reduce the risk for sending emotionally charged e-mails:

· E-mail is seldom ever the right medium to communicate emotions and concerns. Instead of sending an impulsive e-mail response, pause and give yourself a day, or even better a night, to gather your thoughts. Write out the two points you'd like to discuss or resolve, stick with the facts, and keep your emotions out of it. And then, instead of e-mailing, pick up the phone or meet with the person to discuss your points and get these resolved. If there are additional points, schedule another meeting to close out the conversation.

· If you elect to use e-mail, then use the 24-hour rule. Write your e-mail in bullet form and state your points in clear, simple form without emotion. Make it clear to the reader why you have a concern, what you'd like to see happen, and how you recommend the issue be resolved. Once the e-mail is written, put it in your draft folder. Leave it for the day and re-read it in the morning, editing it for emotion and judgment. Be clear with what you want. Trying to hurt someone or getting back at them uses negative energy, and in the end will hurt you as much or more than the other person. Self-editing is about sticking with the facts and getting results.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Read more columns like this, and read about the winners and finalists of the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

Register today for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at www.employeerecommended.com

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