Last week I published a post about how to get your Upwork account approved — and got this response from an FTW reader:
As an impulsive person by nature, I LOVE this. Here’s a guy who was about to do something self-destructive on impulse, but he held back…and was handsomely rewarded for his restraint.
Not everyone comes out of these situations so clean.
In fact, this reminded me of a time when I saw a similar situation handled completely differently.
It happened back when I was managing a local business.
One morning I received an angry email from my boss. He’d attached a screenshot of the previous day’s call logs… To his shock and horror we’d received over a dozen incoming calls that day — yet no one had answered a single one of them.
Naturally, he demanded to know WHY. To make things worse, I noticed he’d CC’d several of our mutual bosses on the email, including the general manager, CEO, and even the owner of the store.
Normally I’d have been sitting there with a knot in the pit of my stomach, wondering what to say.
But this time I calmly took a few minutes to carefully plan out my response. Then I shot back the following reply:
“Hi Tom, thanks for checking in. Actually, there is a simple explanation for why none of yesterday’s phone calls were answered: Yesterday was Sunday, and, as I’m sure you know, we are CLOSED on Sundays. Btw, if you check today’s outgoing calls, you’ll see we’ve already called back all of the missed calls from yesterday. Hope you’ve had an equally productive morning!”
(Of course, I also made sure to CC all of our mutual bosses on that reply.)
Am I telling you this to brag? To rub “Tom’s” (not his real name) face in it? To show you how clueless bosses can be?
But there’s also another reason I’m doing it: So you can avoid being THAT PERSON.
Over the years, I’ve gotten countless emails from people who didn’t take a moment to ask themselves, “Should I send this email out as-is?” Or even, “Should I send this email at all?”
If we’re being honest, I think most of us can admit we’ve fired off an email on impulse at one time or another. Fine. But the real question is how do you prevent this from happening in the future, before it turns into a career-torpedo?
A couple of helpful guidelines:
1) Make as few assumptions as possible. In fact if something seems off to you, assume it’s YOU who is missing something — until proven otherwise. When you think about how many things you actually know for sure, the number is shockingly small. A certain amount of assumptions are necessary to live (e.g. you can safely assume the sun will come up tomorrow), but beyond that they’re useless and can really screw you.
2) WAIT before sending email that’s emotional, knee-jerk, accusatory, or otherwise sensitive in nature. It’s best to wait at least a day — it’s amazing how much more clearly you see things after even a decent night of sleep. But at a minimum give yourself a few hours before firing it off, NO EXCEPTIONS.
And since other people will ignore these rules, it’s also good if you know how to deal with an incoming “torpedo” email, too.
If you’re ever on the receiving end of one, the first step is to determine the motive of the person who sent you the email.
In my example above, it was crystal clear that my boss was looking for any excuse to make me look bad. In fact, his prejudice was so extreme he was willing to stubbornly overlook obvious evidence that I was doing my job (how could staff members answer calls on their DAY OFF?). So it was completely appropriate and even necessary for me to deliver a swift, crippling response that would stop him from trying to mess with me again in the future.
But it’s important to recognize that impulsive, emotional emails aren’t always malicious — let alone declarations of war.
For example, I once worked with a freelancer who sent me an irate email ranting about the fact that I’d taken a few days to respond to his last message.
I’d be lying if I said my gut reaction wasn’t to write him back and be like, “Dude, why are you being so sensitive? I’ve just been busy…if you can’t chill out about this then we won’t be able to work together in the future.”
But there was an enormous difference between this case and the story I opened this post with. Can you see what it is?
I could tell this guy wasn’t intending to be malicious! In fact, he sounded as though he felt genuinely slighted by my delays.
When something like this happens, you have 2 choices.
The first is to react defensively. In this case, I could have simply told him that it sometimes takes me a few days to respond to emails, and he shouldn’t take it personally. That’s an OK option, but it’s 10x more powerful if you can say it in a way that lets the other person come to this conclusion on their own. (In their new book, The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers call this “tripping over the truth” — and it works wonders.)
So instead of writing him back with a lecture, I decided to ask a question that would make him instantly realize he’d overreacted.
Can you guess what it was?
I said, “Hi <NAME> — sounds like you’re pretty upset with me. I’m a little confused… Did I miss a payment to you or something?”
This really put things into perspective for him. Of course, I hadn’t missed any payments, and our project was on schedule — so there was no reason for him to react so negatively to having to wait a couple of days to hear from me. He immediately apologized for his outburst, and we’ve been great friends ever since.
Now, I’d love to hear from you about this…
Have you ever done anything impulsively? Or been on the receiving end of someone else behaving in a hastily manner?
What happened? Did it turn out OK? If not, did you learn anything? I’d appreciate it if you took 30 seconds to leave a comment below and share your experience!
PS In today’s hectic world, I believe we need to be part of a community — more than ever before. But let’s be honest: Facebook groups and online forums can be a tremendous time suck.
The good news is that the comments section of the FTW blog is what I call a “5-Minute Community” — with readers posting insightful comments, and even having back and forth discussion and helping one another. (For example, one of my favorite posts has over 100 comments — many of which are more insightful than many other people’s entire blogs!)
Please take a moment to comment on today’s post below.
Creative Commons image via Erik Drost