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Email Hell: When the Written Work Is Not Your Friend

It’s news to no one that people are emboldened to say things in writing that they would never say in person.  The scorching email is a case in point.  But most of us are beyond the flame thrown message.  Now the email game is much more sophisticated and nuanced.  Even if you’re straightforward, to the point, and non-manipulative via email, it doesn’t mean your colleagues are.

My list of what I consider really bad email manners grows every day.  Some new offenses:

Having a personal gripe with an individual and cc’ing their supervisor without first giving the individual the opportunity for dialogue and clarification;

Getting a personal email from someone and replying in a hostile way with cc’s to colleagues and supervisors;

Forwarding a person’s email without his/her permission to people he/she never intended to send it to;

Intentionally including marginally involved but powerful people on an email list as a way to posture and position oneself; and

Treating email as a communication process conducted totally divorced from face to face communication so that email becomes a separate but parallel universe much like Facebook is for most professional folks. 

If you’ve spent any time working in a large organization (and were successful), you probably know how to play office politics.  The next generation of email warfare is a couple of steps above that.  Words are powerful; incendiary.  Email empowers people who are good with words and know how to maneuver. 

What are my solutions?  It’s pretty simple.  I give the same advice I gave my kids when one would mercilessly taunt the other.  Don’t take the bait.  But, also, don’t be the lone sheep in a wolf den.  Be smart but above it all.  Don’t allow people to use your words against you. This means, in the end, you should be as careful about what you say and how you say it via email as you would in a meeting sitting across the table from someone. 

It’s tough, I know, but it can be done.  You’ll be ahead of the game because you don’t play the game, if you get my drift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a good resource on email etiquette:  http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/06/email-etiquette.html


Working and Working Hard

When you’re in business a long time, you have to find ways to change.  Look what happened to Kodak.  The world evolves.  Clients need different services and new skills.  If a company doesn’t change in the right direction at the right time, it becomes yesterday’s news, last year’s hit.

Wilberg Community Planning has been around 17 years.  It was established two days after I left my dream job at an agency temporarily overrun with bad decision-making on the part of its board of directors.  I wept for a day and printed new business cards on the next.  It was a hard transition but I never looked back. 

This year, I made a similar decision and that was to leave a coalition for which I’d been the primary consultant for ten years.  A tough decision but one driven by the knowledge that my business needed to move on to new things, that to stay in the same position was making my business a Kodak.  That wasn’t good enough for me.  So I left without any quick replacements in terms of new business.

But, of course, just as happened when I first printed those business cards, business just started turning up.  A major, breathtakingly hard federal proposal that took months to put together, an opportunity to create an innovative evaluation system for a small, beautifully community-based organization, involvement in two major new redesign efforts in county government, and other new, different clients practically coming out of nowhere.  And then there has been a lot of training I’ve conducted over the past several months through the Nonprofit Center and my association with Planners and Grantwriters Roundtable.

In other words, I’m working and working hard but instead of that edge that I felt getting duller and duller, my new edge is sharp and focused.  Sometimes, you have to quit something to get other things going.  Or as I like to say, once in a while, you need to go out and come back in again.

Start over.  Be sharp.  Be keen.


Going Off Half-Cocked: Business Lessons from My Dad

One reason why I don’t have ulcers or lose sleep over work is that I keep in my back pocket a finely honed ability to go off half-cocked. I don’t do it all the time and, as I get older, tend to do it less and less, but I have no fear of pushing my chair back from the table and saying “I’m done with this” if the foolishness quotient goes beyond a certain level.

I learned this from my Dad.  Well, learned probably isn’t accurate.  It’s more like I absorbed it.  My father didn’t do a lot of direct instruction and probably wouldn’t have known a role model if one sat in his lap.

My dad knew how to pick up and leave.  Now, get this right.  My dad was not a rich man.  He couldn’t always afford to go off half-cocked and several times his family paid the price for his unilteral decisions to sell his business, move to a new town, buy a business, move again.  There were a lot of 29 cent chicken pot pies eaten while he played in dance bands at night or sold Muntz TV’s door to door in Detroit to pay the mortgage and keep his day business operating.

But you know what I respected about him?  He didn’t take a lot of crap from people or situations.  He took some.  He wasn’t some super-sensitive guy who was always getting his nose out of joint or running out the door because his pride was hurt.  He would negotiate, try to change things, come at problems from a new angle.  But if none of that worked, he’d just get to a certain level and, man, that was it.  He was done.  He was on to making a new plan.

Without even thinking about it, I realized early on that I approached my work life the same way.  And it has brought a value to my work that might be underestimated by many people.  Because I know I am not afraid to walk away from a bad situation, I’m less stressed about staying in one.  As a co-worker in a nonprofit organizations where we both worked said when the agency was going through a particularly wicked period, “This isn’t the kind of place you should work if you don’t have options.”

I have colleagues who just seem to suffer every single day on the job.  “How’s it going,” I ask.  Then the torrent…”they don’t use my skills, I never have any say about my assignments, no one ever listens to me, I’m not appreciated and on and on.”  To which I say, “You’re smart.  You’re competent.  You have options.”  Invariably, I get the arguments back about how they don’t have options, they have families, it’s a bad job market, they’ve got a pension to worry about.  A hundred reasons why they can’t control their own lives.  I feel bad for them - not really. 

Going off half-cocked — important skill to have. It’s not about being flaky or temperamental or egotistical.  It’s about having standards and a sense of one’s own capabilities and contribution.  And knowing what you will and won’t do to make a buck.

And believing, at the end of the day, you can make a new plan.