Everyone is isolated and going a bit mad anyway, even if it’s only slightly crazy and not full on dressing up as batman for breakfast crazy. The last thing a great team leader wants to do is sow more confusion. That’s why I think this topic – how to avoid additional frustration from classic email blunders – is particularly important now that we are all in lockdown.
Here are some common email miscommunications/misinterpretations, which if you can avoid or spot in their genesis, will smooth the team atmosphere:
- Cc.ing in a more senior person
CCing in others who are senior without explanation can at best be mildly annoying, and at worst, quite infuriating. It feels like we are including mommy and daddy because we aren’t capable of sorting something out on our own, like the adults we are.
It’s best to sort this situation out face to face, when it arises. However, we’re all on lockdown and still in our pyjamas, or at least our pyjama bottoms [or maybe no pyjamas at all – shock], so a videocall may feel like a bit too much effort. It would definitely require brushing of the hair. So instead of sorting something out, we may let it fester, which is always bad news for relationships.
- Misreading brief emails as antagonistic
A few years ago, I knew someone who was very busy and would provide approvals by replying, very plainly, “Approved 😊”, which was friendly yet to the point. It turns out that every so often the manager omitted the smiley face emoji – for no other reason than simply forgetting. The blunt one word “Approved” came across as terse and annoyed. The team fretted that they had upset their manager – a waste of time and emotion. I do actually think that “Approved 😊” is ok but it does highlight how much extra time needs to be invested in emails when we are all working independently.
- Asking for feedback when you don’t really want it
You have just completed a top notch, fairly champion piece of work. You decide to send an email about it asking for feedback. In truth, you are fishing for compliments. But your idiot co-workers, while they are obviously impressed, all chime in to tell you the tiny, miniscule, almost irrelevant critical points. Plan backfired. Not the resounding applause for which you were looking and now you’re feeling a bit down about it all.
- Dodging responsibility
A lovely end of week email is circulated by your manager which includes a run through of the week’s activities. It’s a fun, upbeat email. At the end of the email, she bullets some tasks for next week for everyone to achieve. You assume these will be picked up by Tom, because they broadly touch his area. Tom assumes they will be picked up by Alex because she responded to the email to say “that sounds great”. Alex is watching Netflix etc etc. Everyone does nothing about these points for a few precious days. By that point, your fun upbeat manager is annoyed and can’t understand the lack of progress – not good for productivity or morale.
- Being left out of the loop
You are dialled into the weekly team meeting. Your co-workers discuss a project about which you know nothing. It could be work related or it could be about Tiger King, which you haven’t seen yet because you have too many small children who won’t sleep. Other teammates join the conversation – they are all in the know. You don’t have a clue. It turns out an email went out on Friday. At the time, they didn’t think it would involve your input but as their email conversation grew, it covered areas of your responsibility. You feel left out and a tad annoyed. This is needlessly demoralising.
- Misreading the tone of a sentence
As part of an email, you send this sentence to your boss – “I was just wondering why we are reviewing this now”.
You feel you need more context and background on the project. You want to understand the reason behind the review. In your mind, as you type the sentence, you place emphasis on the word ‘why’. “I was just wondering why we are reviewing this now”.
However, your boss reads the sentence with an entirely different mindset. She is in a bad mood and assumes you are being a bit lazy and that it’s not about you understanding context, but you pushing back. She reads it this way “I was just wondering why we are reviewing this now”. Or she could think you are questioning timing and read “I was just wondering why we are reviewing this now”. Either way you are both immediately set up for a few confusing email exchanges until it’s sorted.
These misinterpretations can upset relationships and create cloudy pain in otherwise sunny days. It could even push someone over the edge… and into the Phantom Zone!!!
[So my kids are obsessed with the lego movies, I have seen it too many times than is normally regarded as healthy.]