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10 Smarter Ways To Respond To Messed Up Work Emails

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Over on the webzine This Is Your Conscience, writer Lincoln Anthony Blades put together a snarky, expletive-laden post called 10 Lowkey-Shady Ways to Respond to F**cked up Work Emails AND Still Keep Your Job. While the writing is humorous, the advice is terrible.

In fact, the post’s author explains his rationale with the following quip:

Throwing professional shade is an art form that requires much skill and maneuverability because you need to find the right balance between sh**ing directly on their entire life without saying anything that will get you walked out the building by security.

Annoyed Baby

© Flickr user Nathan

As much as many of us would secretly love to tell off our colleagues and supervisors, this behavior won’t pay off in the long term. Here are each of the original ten ways to respond plus suggestions that are more likely to create positive change.

1.“As I said in my previous e-mail…”

People don’t read emails. At least, they don’t read them as carefully as you would like. What matters most is that no one cares as much about what you say as you do. Accepting this reality will help you throughout your life and career, not just in your inbox.

Telling people that you already told them before is saying “You’re not paying enough attention.” It’s an insult. Instead:

  • Go to your sent items folder and find the email where you said it the last time.
  • Hit the “forward” button and change the subject, if needed, to better reference the topic
  • Apologize for being unclear before (if you could have been clearer.) If you couldn’t, ask them to check if they received the email that you forwarded.

Why should you apologize? Because no one can resist at least thinking “It’s okay” if you do that, which may make them realize it’s their fault. And why should you ask them to check if they received the original email? Because if messages were disappearing at random from inboxes, that would be a reason to call IT straight away.

Of course, it’s unlikely that either of these are actually the case. But both are a subtle way of saying “hey, we both know this would go a lot smoother if you paid a little more attention to correspondence, but I’m too classy to call you out directly.” Simple, and often effective.

2. “Please refer to [insert regulatory set of guidelines here] before trying to [insert whatever they thought was gonna happen] in order to spare valuable time.”

This language implies that you know what someone is going to do, and you also know that it is not allowed. It’s often offensive to someone when you predict their behavior, and you are almost certainly going to frustrate them if you tell them what they are planning and that they can’t do it. That’s attempted robbery and an insult to their intelligence all at once.

Instead, break the conversation into a few parts:

  • Ask them what they are planning to do. It’s okay to gently suggest a common option, especially if it’s been tried by others or discussed before.
  • Wait for the response.
  • If their idea is in violation of policy, regulation, the law, or just common sense, now is the time to bring up those rules.

In short, don’t assume you know, because you probably don’t.

3. “If you don’t grasp this, please advise because training can and will be provided on the topic at hand.”

This statement is downright rude, even if it is factually correct. People who don’t know a particular area, tool, or procedure can benefit from education. But telling someone this fact is like saying “If you jump into the pool, you will get wet.”

Instead, acknowledge that the topic is not self-evident. “This topic is complex. Please let me know if you need training and we will get it scheduled for you.”

4. “Make sense?”

I’m not personally opposed to this phrase in moderation. It’s more effective in person where you can read body language. For that reason, I suggest it should be rewritten as: “If I’m being unclear, let me know and we can schedule a quick meeting to discuss further. Thanks!”

5. “Rest assured…”

These two words, like so many other examples on this list, are a confident prediction of other people’s attitudes and future behavior. You only need to tell someone to “rest assured” if you think they will be restless and concerned, and only then because they lack the information or intellect to understand why there is no cause for alarm.

Instead of telling other people they have nothing to worry about, say that YOU will take responsibility. “I understand there is a risk here, but if there is a problem I will be fully responsible and will take steps to correct any issues.”

6. “Let me see if I can put this in terms you can understand.”

I’m amazed this one is on the original list. Again, this is a phrase which implies superior intellect and the need to talk down to other people. If someone doesn’t get what you’re saying, apologize for being unclear. And more importantly, email is a terrible place to give instructions or educate someone. Pick up the phone or put a meeting on the calendar.

7.“Let me explain it to you again”

Although this phrase should not appear in email, the sentiment is not quite as vindictive as the previous example. Instead of explaining it “again” try “in a different way.” And as always consider inserting an apology. Everything is smoother when people admit they are not perfect.

8. CC’ing Their Manager

Email is a medium which bridges the gap between public and private. It’s not quite the same as a conversation in an office with closed doors or a memo posted on the breakroom wall, but every email is company property and every email could potentially end up being read into the Congressional Record during a terrifying investigation.

With that in mind, the only reason you aren’t cc-ing everyone in the company is efficiency. You could include their boss on all correspondence, but there’s no need to trouble them with the small details of how a particular project is being accomplished.

Carbon copying someone’s boss is a great thing to do when you want to praise them. But if you want their boss to see what you’re talking about, go to your sent items afterward and forward the exchange. That way, there’s no danger of getting caught up in an embarrassing reply-all chain and you’re giving the supervisor information they need.

9. Emailing Their Manager and CC’ing The Person You’re Shading

If you have something negative to say about someone, you should either say it to them directly, or say it to their manager directly. You should never say it to both people, unless you’re in person.

10. “Thanks In Advance”

This last piece of advice is a terrible way to close an email. It presumes the person will do the work you’ve ordered and communicates that you are too important to bother acknowledging it after the fact. Furthermore, these three words imply their contributions won’t be worthy of praise no matter how they are done. You might as well write: “I don’t care.”

Instead, wait until the work is complete to express appreciation. And while a short message that says “great job!” may seem like it’s cluttering the tubes of the Internet, heartfelt positive sentiment is never a waste of time. Just be sure you mean it.

Read more about email in The Battle For Your Email Inbox, only $1.49 on your Kindle or $10.00 plus shipping in softcover.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


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