Part of my coaching involves what I call Communication Review. This process involves my clients sending me their draft responses when they are in a high-stakes or emotionally charged email exchange, before sending them out.
On Memorial Day I received a very lengthy email from a client asking for my feedback. My client wrote several paragraphs detailing every hurt feeling and problem the recipient had caused during a project my client’s department was working on.
I responded to the draft response with a simple question. “What is your intent?”
He said, “I want them to know how hard it is.”
I explained that was not an intent. An intent answers the question, “What do you want them to do, think, say, or know?”
An intent is actionable. My client’s desire for empathy is a start. But those are feelings, not an observable response. What action will those feelings generate? That is the true intent.
After some back and forth, we determined that what he really wanted was for his boss to change their expectations for the deadline due to the effort and complexity required to complete the project. That is a clear, actionable intent.
Next question, can he communicate that in a way that would be heard and not come across as blaming or complaining? I asked him “is this rant worth it?” I credit Marshall Goldsmith’s work for this valuable question. That’s what I want you to think about this week. Is it worth it? That moment where you say, “I told you so,” or, “if you had only…” Is it worth it? The impact is typically to make yourself feel better and someone else feel worse. Is it worth it? What’s the impact on the relationship, the results? In this case, my client decided the rant was not going to be worth it, but was unsure how to communicate differently. These are the tips I gave him.
- Keep it short. A long, multi-paragraph email can be overwhelming and put even the most emotionally steady team member on the defensive.
- Acknowledge the other party’s understanding. Infuse the emotion you want them to have at the beginning of the communication. For example, starting with something like, “I appreciate your understanding and support as my department works hard to resolve this challenge or complete this project,” will communicate that you already believe the other party is understanding and supportive AND lays the foundation for you to request that additional time – your intent.
- Share the intent clearly. Don’t be vague about what you need or why you are sending this email. Communicate your requests or needs directly. In this case, the client needed to say something like, “I would like to update you on the progress and work to set a realistic timeline for the completion of the project.”
So, the next time you are having an emotionally charged exchange with somebody, ask yourself “is it worth it?” Chances are, you can make things more clear with just a few revisions and after taking time to review what you’ve said before immediately hitting ‘send.’