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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 29, 2017
Question

How To Manage The Fallout From An Email War.

answer
Julie Q. Brush

The Question: My colleague and I have traded emails about a work issue and it has escalated into an email war. I no longer want deal with this person, but at some point I will have to. How do I handle this situation?

I love email. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s efficient. And you can use it just about anywhere.

But it can also be…lethal.

The Email has landed countless individuals, corporations, law firms and politicians in hot water. And has served as the key to Pandora’s box on numerous occasions. Despite these dangers, people take the power of email for granted. And as a result, they take a careless approach to the medium without much attention to perception or consequence. We’re all guilty of it at one time or another: firing off an email in an emotional state, distracted, in a hurry or without much thought.

The consequences vary, but generally speaking, a lack of attentiveness to the pitfalls of email can cause more trouble than is necessary. And in an email “conversation”, negative communications can escalate quickly – creating anxiety and strained relations. This is the situation you face now and it needs to be rectified in order to mitigate your own stress and work harmoniously with your colleague in the future. So what’s the best way to proceed? Below is a suggested approach.

  1. No More Emails! The email route has proved ineffective for your interaction with your colleague. So discontinue the conversation in this medium immediately.
  2. Cool Down. No one can think clearly when s/he is angry. So take time to cool down and create some distance. Go for a walk, get coffee, work on a project, get a good night’s sleep.
  3. Analyze The Situation. Now that you have a clear head, assess the following: how you feel…and why, your colleague’s state of mind by his/her words, where there is friction and potential misunderstanding.
  4. Shift Your Mindset To Understanding And Problem Solving. Digging in on a position won’t solve any problems. This is your colleague. And good professionals work together to address conflict and create solutions. Think about what you can do to make that happen.
  5. Pick. Up. The. Phone. A live conversation at this point is a must. Call your colleague and ask for a time to get together to discuss the issue further. If you can’t meet face to face, schedule a call. What to say in your overture? Here are two examples:

“Hi Ron, I thought it best to pick up the phone to talk live about our email exchange. I’d love to meet to clear the air and gain a better understanding of your position. Are you free on Thursday afternoon?”

“Hi Jane, it seems like our email exchange really escalated so I wanted to call. It’s important to me that we work well together so if there was anything I wrote that upset you, I’m very sorry. It would be great to schedule a time to talk further and work through our differences on this issue and come up with a solution. Would you be open to that?”

When engaging in your follow up conversation, you can’t be sure how your colleague will behave. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad…always take the high road. But don’t be afraid to express your views and feelings in an honest, respectful and considerate way. By following this approach, you will maximize your chances to diffuse the situation and get back on track with your co-worker. And that’s in everyone’s best interest.

Email is a wondrous thing. But sometimes it’s the least effective way to communicate. So with each encounter, use your judgment to determine whether it’s best to type…or talk. And before hitting “send”, make sure your message has been crafted carefully enough…to keep the peace.

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