Reflecting on some of the mistakes I made in ministry I am thankful for the people who showed me grace but were also honest with me. One area where I was ignorant and needed accountability was email. I am not talking about how to technically use email, but how to handle email communication properly. I found email an easy way to vent and complain. Emailing was a safe place for me to criticize others while hiding behind a computer screen. In other words, I was an email coward, and I want to give you some ideas on how to lead better by avoiding the pitfalls of email.
1. Realize a send button is a dangerous tool
When you understand the power of the send button better, you will understand the risks. Once you hit send you cannot take it back and clean your hands of it. A good question to ask before you hit send, “Will I regret this later?” This will prevent sending an email in the heat of the moment. Every email mistake I made was due to emailing when I was angry. This leads me to my next point.
2. Write your email response in a word document and share it with others
Recently, I was extremely frustrated with someone’s email to me. However, rather than write an email in Google, I composed one in Word and shared it with others before I sent it. This serves a few purposes: First, you do not send it accidentally (has happened!). Second, through sharing, I learned what I had written did not come across well. Remember, others will determine the tone of the email based on their perspective. Finally, by still writing it down, I was able to vent and get my thoughts out of my head. It was very healing! I ended up sending something entirely different and I am thankful for that decision.
3. Do not rush emails
Everyone has many items on their schedule, and it can be tempting to rush an email, but you must resist this. When you rush, you make mistakes, but you also devalue the person receiving the email. When you are in a hurry you do not give your best effort and you end up giving a short response. Have you ever written an in-depth email and sent it, only to get a one-sentence reply? Most likely, that person was focused on crossing your email off the list. Do not do this to other people, because you do not want it done to you. Be a professional when it comes to email and take your time. Schedule a time focused on email.
4. If all possible, meet face to face (or zoom)
Email is not a healthy way to deal with conflict. It is extremely easy to hide behind a screen and let someone have it. You cannot beat an honest in-person meeting for dealing with conflict. Say you have one co-worker who is frequently rude to you and dismisses your ideas at meetings. You finally reach a breaking point, and you decide to email them and share that you are sick and tired of their treatment of you at meetings. How do you think they will respond to an email like this? Most likely they will feel attacked and defensive. How would it look different if you approached them, and did not accuse them, but asked, “Do you realize how you treat me at meetings?” The latter approach can open a two-way dialogue and it will set a different tone. It takes courage to confront someone face-to-face, but it is the best way!
Email is a great tool when used wisely, but it can hurt your leadership and create a dysfunctional culture if used improperly. Be smart about email, and do not let it derail your leadership. There will be conflict where you work, but do not try to solve it through email.