Are you an email gunslinger?


gunslingerEmail is a written medium, and you use it every single day. Words you write can not display emotions easily and what you feel might not come across to those who read it. The medium is fast and you can easily write in anger or frustration. As a manger I am often included with a CC or a BCC to an email, but way to often not until someone feels hurt. In 98 % of all conflicts made by email there are misunderstandings making it harder to work together. So what can we do to improve teamwork and prevent email gunslingers from hurting people?

5 things to do when reading an email

  1. Always read an email with best intentions, assume that this is not what the person really means.
  2. Pick up the phone, or go for a walk and talk to the person face to face.
  3. If you feel emotional when reading an email, either good or bad, wait for a while before replying. Or read #2.
  4. Stop reading, take a break, get coffee and get back, read #1, 2 and 3. And then read other emails before getting back to this one email.
  5. If you need to reply to show that you got it. Just do that, write thank you, got your email, will get back to you soon. Then read #3.

I had a call center agent that complained about a customer’s 10 page long email that wanted a written reply, he thought this would take long. I said; write back and say thank you for your email, I will call you soon. That would be a written reply. (Ok this was a joke)

5 things to do when sending an email

  1. Avoid foul language, and personal attacks.
  2. Pick up the phone, or go for a walk and talk to the person face to face.
  3. Remember that emotions, irony and sarcasm is really hard to write, and it can create misunderstandings.
  4. Keep it short if you can, unless read #2
  5. Do not write when emotional.

What to do when you experience email gunfights?
Imagine working with people dealing with the cash flow in a huge company. This could be the billing department. A small error here could postpone million of dollars income or create angry customers calling the support department. People working here might be under huge pressure. When you email them complaining about a report being late or because they did the same thing wrong as last month. You demand action and you might start accusing them for sloppy work or worse. This results in the receiver of the email getting defensive and angry shooting from the hip with frustration back to you. Or maybe it was ironic, and you did not get it. You get fired up, bringing in the big guns with a copy of the dialogue to a manager. And we have an electronic gunfight using the smtp server as the gun.

Show compassion
I recently experienced an email dialogue that got all my warning lamps to flash. It had not yet gotten far, but I knew that it might. I decided to go and talk to the bull’s eye and show compassion. Asking if she felt pressured, and if she was ok. Asking if she needs help, or if she just needs someone to talk to, I would be here. The topic in the email was unimportant, she was important, as I do not like to see people caving under pressure ending up burned out.

I also advised the other person in the gunfight to go and show compassion and use positive emotions and understanding first. The result was unique and created a WOW moment as they both let down their guard, felt support and found ways to help each other. Yes one is under pressure for making an error, one is under pressure for needing to calm down the customers or clean up the mess. By understanding and talking they found mutual respect and ways to help out. The result is two people working together to solve a problem.

Show that you care
According to Freud one of human cravings is to be important. An easy way to make friends is to be genuine interested in other people. Getting other people to talk about themselves or showing them that you care will result in people feeling appreciated and seen. It is a strong feeling, and by trying to care you will stop blaming for the fault, and rather try to teach the right way of doing it.

Offer help
When confronting an email gunslinger, show compassion, show that you care and offer to help. You might not be able to help, but offer. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you get away from your desk to eat lunch? How are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you, to help you out? The result can be such a little thing as inviting the person to get five minutes of air each day. Or maybe they just need someone to talk to. Offering help does not mean that you will get stuck doing all the work.

Email gunslinger can crush the spirit at work, creating bad moods, water cooler gossip and prevent progress and teamwork. Be aware and use your mouth and heart instead of your keyboard and get a WOW moment. Have you experienced email gunfights? Did you get out of it alive to tell us about it?

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5 Comments on "Are you an email gunslinger?"

  1. Frode Heimen | August 13, 2009 at 7:17 pm |

    Vanman and Ted.
    Thank you both for reading my blog and contributing with good comments.
    1. Pause before you re-read and press send
    2. Put a thank you in the email.

    Great advices from both of you!

    Cheers, and thank you.

  2. With a military background I find I do this more often than ever in the past because it was more acceptable. However I must say simply following basic format on emails with a “thank you” at the end of the message softens the edge.

  3. I can definitely relate to this; more than once I’ve sent a strongly worded email on the spur of the moment and then regretted it soon after, when I’ve calmed down. Its definitely worth pausing and taking a few moments to think everything through before risking saying things you don’t really mean!

  4. Frode Heimen | August 10, 2009 at 7:30 pm |

    Hello Kyle.
    Good point as always. I bet there is a few award winning writers in you office, unless if you work for a publisher or famous magazine. 🙂 hmmm…starting to imagine what those emails might look like. “On this cold winter night, I can feel your heart beat, the blood runs warm as I think about your recent report…” 😀

  5. Howdy Frode,

    I often find myself getting e-mails that seem to have a “get this done NOW” tone in them, but when you go talk to the person you realize that it is just their e-mail writing style. They actually aren’t in that much of a hurry. It really pays off assuming they had the best intentions.

    And, that makes sense. Ask yourself, how many people are award winning writers that are capable of expressing the subtlest of emotions through a written medium? Not many, eh? And I’d be willing to assume that your co-worker on the other end who just sent you that e-mail that you “suspect” might have an underlying “I hate you” in it isn’t an award winning writer. So, like you said, take a break, re-read it, and more than likely you will see that they just worded their e-mail poorly.


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