Think before you hit ‘send’

Christy Baker

We have all been there. A board reporting deadline looms and you are waiting on “Jacob” to provide his quarterly charge-off numbers. This really isn’t his M.O., as he normally has them to you in plenty of time. But you are down to the wire and send him a quick email asking for an update. Within seconds, you receive an “out of office” message stating he will be gone through the end of the week. WHAT? 

Your blood starts boiling; I mean flash point boiling. You ask for these every quarter for goodness sakes! You rip off a quick retort and copy anyone you can think of who would be just as mad about Jacob’s lack of planning and irresponsibility as you, including Jacob’s supervisor, the chief operations officer, and the board secretary.

Jacob, I see you are out of the office and didn’t bother sending me your numbers for the board report. These are due today and now I have to waste my time and someone else’s time tracking them down. I am very disappointed in you. Next time plan ahead.

Your index finger crashes down on the “send” button and you feel momentarily avenged.

As you begin to calm down, you think about how else to get those numbers. You remember seeing “Alex” from deposit operations earlier that day so you call him to see if he can pull them together on short notice. Alex is more than happy to help and mentions how bad he feels for Jacob. As that sinking sensation settles in your stomach, you tentatively ask, “Why, what’s going on with Jacob?” 

Alex shares that Jacob’s wife has had a difficult pregnancy and went into early labor. Jacob is with her at the hospital as doctors are trying to keep her contractions at bay. Your sinking sensation turns into a dull ache as you realize how profoundly you just messed up.

At this moment you can either redeem yourself by sending an apology to Jacob and other members of the group who you copied on the angry email, or wallow in your initial anger and continue to blame Jacob. He knew those numbers were due and if he had enough time to set his out-of-office email, he could have finished those numbers!

Who would you choose to be at that moment?

We all send thousands of emails every year, which range from pages of carefully constructed dialogue to one-word responses. No matter the length, every email conveys a perceived tone. “Perceived” is a key word here since email does not involve non-verbal cues. Since tone cannot be perceived, precise language is important to help convey tone, especially in the case where you simply do not know what is going on. 

Let’s rewind our example to your receipt of the out-of-office response. You are still upset and your blood is boiling as a deadline looms. You pause for a few minutes to calm your mind and, since Jacob is clearly out of the bank, you reach out to Alex to see if he can help. You do not mention Jacob’s lack of planning as it really isn’t Alex’s concern. In your conversation with Alex you learn what caused Jacob’s hurried departure and your heart goes out to him. Alex is able to save the day, you submit the board reports in the nick of time and you made a choice not to overreact out of anger or frustration.

Typing when angry is never a good idea. Take a few minutes to clear your mind and approach the situation with an assumption that you do not know what is going on because, quite frankly, you probably don’t.