Emails in the workplace often come with questions, work to do, goals to reach, and obstacles to overcome. That makes them inherently stressful or anxiety producing. Plus, communication is hard enough when we are face-to-face and email makes it much more challenging. Face-to-face we have the ability to read another person’s intentions and emotions. Over email, we are left guessing what the other person is trying to express. When you read an email that upsets you, it is often because a reaction is being triggered that may not be appropriate to the communication as it was intended.
Knowing this, here are some tips for what to do when you feel triggered emotionally by an email you receive.
1. Use the STOP sign technique before you respond.
S = Stop (do nothing)
T = take a breath (or five breaths or breathe until you’re more relaxed)
O = Observe (What are you feeling and thinking? Is this someone you have reacted to in the past? Is there a pattern of reacting that you can begin to understand better?)
P = Proceed (when you feel calm again, now you can respond if you need to)
2. After you have calmed down, re-read the email in question. Does it say what you thought it did? Or, does it say something slightly different? When I go back and re-read emails I often discover that they were much less of a problem than the first time I read them.
3. Put yourself in the shoes of the person sending the email. What might they be trying to accomplish? Usually someone doesn’t send an email to make you mad and, in fact, the email is often sent with good intentions. Assume good intentions whenever possible.
4. When you’re sending an email, check in with what you intend to convey. Never send an email that you’ve composed when you’re angry. Take a few breaths and wait until you’re calm. You will be much more capable at getting your message across in a way that can be accepted without defensiveness.
5. When possible, pick up the phone and talk or walk down the hall to speak to someone in person. While email is absolutely a necessity in this day and age, there are still times we could take advantage of some old fashioned face time.
The workplace is fast-paced and hectic. No wonder it can be filled with misunderstandings. When we practice slowing down, even a little, we can discover many new things in our communications with others. We can begin to illuminate the ways we get stuck in repetitive patterns and we can begin to understand how others operate so that we don’t take their messages so personally. When we practice mindful emailing, we have an opportunity to help the workplace be a little more friendly and manageable.