We have all received an email, instant message or voice mail which has immediately got our backs up, firing up the inner chimp (Dr Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox 2012) and ultimately causing our stress levels to rise. Maybe you have returned to your desk or office after a series of back to back meetings, feeling tired and frustrated and then worked your way through your inbox until one message was the catalyst. It is tempting to immediately respond and fire back an email but do not do it. Do not press send!
These methods of communication have a key thing in common, which is that you are not engaging in a live conversation. It is not obvious that your first response should be to calmly seek clarification about what the sender intended to convey in their message. Almost certainly the nuance or vital context, lost in written communication, is being missed.
Technology has made rapid communication so easy, fire off an email or message but technology hasn’t installed a pause, clarify and, if necessary, calm down button! You therefore must do it yourself and frankly this is normally learnt through making mistakes and then having to undo the damage caused by a premature, and angry response.
technology hasn't installed a pause, clarify and calm down button!
People often forget that the most important part of their communication is not their intent (it is of course important) but rather how the message was received i.e. what the recipient heard or read is the key. The disconnect that can build up between intention of the message and how the message was received is how miscommunication commonly occurs.
If it is important to respond using the same channel, then draft a response and leave it. You can return to after you have taken a break, grab a coffee, go for a walk, perhaps even hit the gym. Inevitably when you return you will significantly tone down your reply. Even better, and what I recommend you do, speak to the person before responding and discuss to directly seek clarification. This will either have the result of clarifying any miscommunication or if there is genuine disagreement at least you are 100% sure and can respond calmly and factually.
Speak to the person!
The modern business world is a stressful enough place without accidentally introducing bad feelings among your colleagues because of a misunderstanding. Don’t press send prematurely!