Don’t take it personal

“As leaders, how do we manage the emotion that is sometimes read into the written word of emails, text messages, or memorandums sent throughout an organization?”

‍Quite often I am presented with a staff member, in my chain of command or not, that is upset by something they read. For example, yesterday a lieutenant level civilian member (not in my chain of command) was livid from a response he received from another member of a similar rank. This member was so upset that he was not able to “relax, look around, or make a call.” In this situation, he didn’t even want to hear the word “relax”; he wanted a fight. Similar situations take place regularly in every organization.

While powerful, communicating in written word can be dangerous when the reader receives a different emotion than the writer intended. The dynamic of the correspondents’ relationship at the time and the current work situation are factors that can cause a difference in the perception of the message. Because messages can be misconstrued by the reader, leaders need to own their words and take the extra effort to explain the “emotion” that the information should convey. I have been guilty of this myself by sending the late night, “See me first thing in the morning” text message to one of my lieutenants. That lieutenant then had all night to try and figure out whether it would be a negative or positive meeting. That is unfair. I should have finished the text message with, “so we can discuss training for our response team.” More clarity, less stress, and a decent night sleep for that lieutenant.

On the other side of the coin, we need to encourage staff to not take things so personal when reading the written word. We take things personal when our emotions and ego get in the way. Just because an email sounded harsh, it doesn’t mean the sender was purposefully trying to talk down to us…maybe they were just in a hurry. By spending less time pulling out hidden messages behind every word and more time considering the other person’s situation, we remove our ego from the communication. With our ego in check, no email, text message, or memorandum should affect our performance. If it turns out that the communication is indeed negative for us or our crew, we own it, fix it, and move on.

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