In the fast and easy world of email communication (where over 80% of us consider email to be critical to our success and productivity and how most of us communicate) it is sometimes tempting to respond to an annoying partner or manager communication with a quick-fire email. Most of us have fallen into this trap. Unfortunately if, underlying your response, you are feeling angry, resentful, impatient or perhaps your ego has been dented, chances are you are later going to regret sending the email. You may also cause a great deal of angst to someone else and irreparably damage perceptions of your leadership.

As a law firm leader or senior manager it is particularly important that as soon as any email communication becomes emotionally charged or heated that you take it off-line and quickly arrange a face to face meeting.

It is always worth sleeping on such incidents and reactions, mainly so that we can make sure our emotions, ego and self-will are under control when we do respond. This is mighty important as a leader as everyone in the firm watches your every move, action and reaction and they take their cues from you. You would probably not want them verbally shooting from the hip and you need to set the example.

In a recent article Dr Travis Bradberry of TalentSmart reminds us of the importance of emotionally intelligent emailing and provides some useful tips and reminders on what to be on the look-out for:

  1. Don’t send an email when you are inflamed – if you feel you must write it, do so, but then don’t send it, sleep on it, and ideally re-write it in a way that you know won’t offend and that you will later feel proud to have authored.
  2. Avoid sarcasm, satire and laughing at someone else’s expense online. You are not there in person to make sure it is understood in light-hearted vein and such messages can easily be misinterpreted – it is best to err on the side of friendliness and professionalism.
  3. Sometimes we worry less about offending the addressee online due to a ‘disinhibition’ effect – as we don’t see or experience their reaction it is somehow okay. It is best to consciously think through how you feel the other person will respond – using your social awareness skills i.e. put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  4. Maybe consider using an emoticon as they can serve the same functions as non-verbal behaviour (which accounts for up to 90% of our message when communicating face to face) – and lighten the tone of an email, making sure the recipient realises that you are saying something in jest or not too seriously.
  5. Particularly in a law firm, and where you are in a leadership role, as soon as a communication becomes heated, it is best to quickly take it off-line and communicate face to face.

Unfortunately life and the professional world does throw up tough issues from time to time and sometimes they have to be dealt with by email communication. The trick is to avoid a purely hurried emotional response. Rather let it be a considered, thoughtful one, with careful thought for the other person’s feelings and possible response. This doesn’t equal avoidance or being a ninny. Personally, I also find it is handy to do a couple of drafts of any email which contains any hint of a tough message, allowing myself time to think in between drafts and ‘sleep on them’. I also find it very helpful to have my wife read them through before I hit ‘send’.

all the best, Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International