By Cheryl Crumb


By Cheryl Crumb


 My brother served for 4 months on jury duty last fall and when I asked him what was the biggest learning from the experience, he said, “Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to appear on a courtroom screen”.  Wow…after 120+ days of legal immersion the verdict was  “guilty by reason of email stupidity!”


Emails....The "Good"

 Email communication is beneficial when it….

  • Outlines a proposed agenda for an upcoming meeting
  • Lists discussion questions for said meeting
  • Summarizes decisions, actions and commitments
  • Acknowledges appreciation for actions taken


Emails....The "Bad"

The most important thing to know about emails is when NOT to write one.  If there’s a conflict or disagreement and emotions are dialed up (anger, annoyance, irritation, frustration…..), close your keyboard! Our instinctive reaction is to fight …get even….prove we’re right and you’re wrong.  Do not press “send”.  Instead, wait 24 hours, and ask a couple of non-related people to read it.  Hopefully, the passing of time and the inclusion of others’ input will save you from self-destructive folly.


Once it hits the airwaves it lives forever and repeated readings by the receiver can continue to ignite negative reactions.  The email can also be forwarded (or at worst become viral) and the new readers don’t have the context so it’s easy for you to become the “bad guy”. 


Emails....The "Ugly"

Let me illustrate with a colleague’s experience.  She's now sadder but wiser.  She  was applying for a senior-level job and had connected with the hiring manager.  The usual, acceptable exchange of emails commenced….


Applicant # 1 – “Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today….excited to see our alignment….enclosed is my CV….look forward to next steps…..”


(5 days later) Hiring Manager #1 – “I’d like you to review the XYZ book to get your perspective…..”


(Same day) Applicant #2 – “I welcome the opportunity to share my views……”


(Same day) Hiring Manager #2 – “I’ll set up the next steps….”


(Same day) Hiring Manager #3 – “Look for a call from Mr. X from my team.  He’s leading the project on…..”


(Note:  The call with Mr. X occurred.)


And then.....trouble

(49 days later after the applicant left numerous phone messages requesting status and call-back.)  Applicant #3 - “I have always been very surprised about the lack of respect some hiring managers have for candidates.   It is your choice as the hiring manager to connect with candidates or not, but once you start a process, why can’t you tell candidates that you are no longer interested once you come to this stage in the process?  You asked me to read a book and give my opinion.  I became the top influencer for weeks on the interest group website and the book publishers commented positively on my blogs.  I quickly captured your needs and yet you could not tell me that you were not interested in my candidacy any more.  I heard great things about you but it does not speak well of you or your company’s culture when you cannot even come back to me to let me know that you are no longer interested in my professional profile.  I have been in your shoes many times and it takes 30 seconds to send an email to someone who is waiting for information.  Have a great day!” 


(Same day) – Hiring Manager #3 – “Having been in my shoes you should also know that these activities take time and process.  The responsibility for this role moved to another manager in the organization and I forwarded your information to her.  I will forward her this note as well.”


(Same day) – Applicant #4 – “Yes, I know these things take time and understand well that things change very fast.  Nothing personal.  I just feel that you could have told me that things were changing and my expectations would have changed accordingly.  I went from next steps to nothing.  Thank you for forwarding my information to the new hiring manager, but I have accepted a job offer elsewhere.  I wish I could have collaborated with you.  I could have added value to your team.  Let me know if I can be of assistance to you or to your network.”


(Same day) – Hiring Manager #4 – “Thanks for letting me know things changed on your end.  As you stated, professional courtesy is a necessary business attribute and works both ways.  Good luck and congratulations”.


Is this the result you wanted?


As you read this exchange of “said and unsaid”, ask yourself…..

  • What’s the likelihood of a relationship for these two in the future?
  • Who looks mature?
  • What do you think the hiring manager is thinking?
  • Is this the result the applicant wanted?


Once you put it in writing, you can’t un-ring the bell.  Only attack when a knock-out is the goal.  Concluding with  “have a great day”, or “let me know if I can be of assistance”  doesn't soften the words….they rile the reader even more because of their incongruity!


Emotional situations need a real-time (face-to-face or ear-to-ear) dialogue.    Consider whether the intent was malicious or thoughtless?  Start by putting yourself in the other person’s place.  Begin with empathy.  Allow for face-saving room to maneuver. And don’t forget to ask yourself, “Do I want to be right, or do I want a relationship?”  As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind.”


There are enough people taking pot shots at us.  Don’t add to it by shooting yourself in the foot!


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