Please note: This post has been edited and reposted by the author from the Leaders After Hours Tumblr site.
There are a few simple tricks to reading an email and responding appropriately that I always try to use if I can. These tricks help me to stay appropriate, relevant, and professional.
1) Read it twice, with at least half an hour in between.
Not every email warrants this kind of time, but if you read an email and have any sort of emotional response it is a good idea to click out of it and come back later. Allowing yourself some time to calm down and not take it personally is always a good idea, whether that emotion is good or bad. Also, don’t be afraid to simply walk away from an email and come back to it later in the day or even the next day. Response within 24 hours is expected and assumed, so don’t take three days to get back to them, but definitely take the time to consider and reconsider what the email says and how you will handle it. An ounce of patience now can save you a career filled with emotionally fueled email responses and frustrated and confused coworkers and employees.
2) Consider the person’s tone of voice.
Sometimes people have a writing voice that varies from their speaking voice. Keep in mind that lots of things, including emotion, inflection, and humor can be lost in email. If you read it twice and you’re still in doubt about how to take something, pick up the phone. Better to discuss something vocally and get their meaning correct in the 5-10 minute phone call rather than make yourself nervous or be unsure and find yourself writing and rewriting the same response.
3) Sometimes people say what they don’t mean.
If you work in any position where you perform any function of customer service, there is a very good chance that you will receive an angry electronic communication at some point. The key to this is to remember that people say things they don’t mean when they are upset, and it almost never should be taken personally. Often people who are complaining via email feel comfortable in that forum to say things they wouldn’t normally that can be taken personally. Try to remember that these people don’t know you, and that they are really just aggravated by the situation.
4) Know the rules
If someone puts a threat or something that makes you truly upset, always refer to your management and your company’s policies on handling these individuals. Knowing what you can and cannot accept from people will help you to be happier and better prepared to handle email situations as they arise. Also, know your company’s policy for use of email. Is there a length of time you are required to respond within? Is there an expectation for language, personal use, etc. that needs to be maintained? Know the rules and follow them. This will protect you, your company, and your customers!
Simply remembering that everything you put into email is in writing and can be saved will save you from a great amount of headache. Say what you mean, both in sending email and responding to email, and keep it professional. Better to have the client say that your emails always sound “so formal” than to have them say that you were unprofessional or have to explain that you said something you didn’t mean.
Stay positive, stay professional, and remember to give yourself enough time and distance to remain polished and professional no matter how you feel.
-Megan Cole, Educational Coordinator, The Leader, Corning, NY