The other day a co-worker emailed me about a mistake I had made that affected one of her direct reports. It was a small error — easily remedied — but she made the proverbial mountain out of it. To top it off, she copied my boss on the email.
As a relatively new manager, I would normally have been grateful to my peer for clarifying a complex process I had not yet mastered. By catastrophizing the incident, however, she appeared more interested in proving how smart she was than helping me learn the ropes.
Don’t copy the boss
Her biggest blunder, however, was copying my boss. Her behavior implied I might continue performing this process incorrectly unless my superior was made aware of it. Since my boss knows I am hyper-conscientious and need to be told something only once, she more likely viewed the email as a nuisance and the sender as petty.
More importantly, my own view of the emailer had shifted. I immediately put Betty Blast on my “Do not trust” list and filed her as someone who would blind side me at any opportunity. If she needed a favor in the future — a schedule trade, for instance — I would be far less likely to offer help.
Since most senior level managers get more than enough emails, the only time to copy someone’s boss is if you are complimenting that employee or have arrived at an impasse and need a higher authority to intervene.
Another recent example of email behavior intended to embarrass rather than educate involved a colleague at another site who was a member of a regional committee on which we both served. When one of my co-workers sent out a request for agenda items, she wrote back that her site had no topics to suggest. But then she added a dig about the previous month’s agenda in which our site had included a topic that related to a focus group activity her group had initiated.
In the email, Trudy Troublemaker wrote that in the future she would like advance notice if someone put an item on the agenda that involved her site so they could be better prepared. To do otherwise was “discourteous.”
The emailer had not been at the meeting, but the agenda item had gone well. The manager covering for her responded competently to the few questions asked, and her site received compliments on their brilliant concept. What was the problem?
Before I had a chance to reply to the email, one of my co-workers wrote back that the agenda was sent out several days before the meeting and it was not his fault if she had failed to open it. The original emailer ended up with egg on her face.
Sending mean-spirited emails is a mistake that gets multiplied by the number of people on the recipient list. Ironically, the attempt to make others look bad makes the messenger look worse.
As Bruce Mayhew, a business consultant who specializes in writing effective business emails, warned in the Globe and Mail, “It’s extremely easy to seem abrupt, rude or angry. Always review your e-mail before sending and try to imagine how it might be interpreted by the recipient.”
More from this contributor:
First Person: Lookout Found My Missing Cell Phone
How to Send Text Messages by Email
The Biggest Email Mistake to Avoid