7 Options when you’re caught in an Email War

You might be smiling when you send an email but that could be lost in the words

You might be smiling when you send an email but that could be lost in the words

By Karen Adamedes

The opportunities for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and conflict over email are many.

Without meaning too you can end up in the middle of a conflict on email that you have to work your way out of. One that you’re not even sure how it started in the first place or how it escalated to become a problem.

With most people receiving at least 100 emails a day at work – it’s easy to understand how quick messages, sent when you’re in a hurry, stressed or thinking about something else, may not be your (or someone else’s) best literary effort.

An email war does not serve any purpose or do anybody any good.

It just uses valuable time and threatens constructive working relationships.

For a start it’s not an efficient way to resolve an issue or seek a resolution to a business problem. And nobody comes out of a written email conflict with an enhanced business reputation – especially if it’s a public battle and there are lots of people copied or included on the email.

It can happen in a variety of ways:

You’ve sent off a quick email and it’s been misinterpreted. Something’s taken out of context or just not received in the manner it was meant in (you had your tongue firmly in your cheek and they didn’t realize) and with little effort you have a situation that you are now going to have to put some serious work into resolving.

There are more than enough challenges ensuring that what you mean is what people actually understood when you are talking to them. And that’s when you have the benefit of your body language, pitch and tone of voice to help convey what you mean. In writing it’s even harder! Something you write sounding one way in your head can be taken quite another on email.

Or someone is frustrated by a situation and fires off a message with half the world (well, it seems like it) included or cc’d on the message. Their reason may have been well intentioned (these are all the people who involved in the issue, they think) but what they actually do is create a messy situation that results in multiple emails and often confusion about who is doing what. Someone gets upset, a little bit terse and before you know it the emails are flying back and forth and a proverbial mountain has been made out of the molehill.

Or even worse (I think) is the person who sends emails and copies their manager or other ‘important’ people in order to get a response. This is a very heavy handed approach and akin to bullying. If nothing else it demonstrates that the person the email has been sent to isn’t trusted to do what has been asked. Or that the person sending it is too lazy to negotiate what they need without bring in the big guns!

What it often comes down to is that the person who has been copied often feels the need to weigh in on the issue, be directive or want explanations and you have more email havoc!

Whoever starts it or however you got involved (your fault or not) the trick is how to get out of the conflict, resolve the issue and ensure that relationships and reputations (particularly yours!) are not damaged.

Consider these options:

1. Take it off email

Often the best way to diffuse the situation is to take the issue off email. Call or if you’re co-located go to see the person involved.

You’ll have the advantage of being able to ask questions, get immediate answers and be able to respond appropriately in a very short time frame. You’ll also be able to use more communication tools like your voice tones and intonations to help resolve the situation.

Speaking directly with the person will help you understand where they are coming from and / or assist you reinforce or position what you are saying.

An actual conversation can really help take the heat out of a situation that is about to implode on email. A little bit of gentle humor can work wonders in a conversation. On email it often doesn’t work at all.

Taking the time to making contact offline also shows that you have prioritized the issue and are concerned about their position by taking the time, interest and energy to make a call. It is usually well worth the effort. And if a 5 minute phone call saves 5 emails back and forth in all probability it’s going to be a lot faster!

Talk to the key person (not a committee).

The situation is going to dictate who is the best person for you to talk to about an issue. If an email is only between you and one other person – then they’re the one you call – easy!

But if there are multiple people involved decide who you should deal with to resolve the issue the fastest and without putting any noses out of joint. If your manager is involved it can be well worth speaking with them for their insights or counsel. It may be another senior stakeholder that has the delegation to make the required decision. If it’s not going to cause more harm than it fixes – escalate the issue directly to them.

Don’t sacrifice speed for making sure you don’t get anyone offside! Depending on the situation it may be that a quick call to one of the people involved to find out the information you need or agree on the resolution is needed before you make the call to your manager/stakeholder.

If there are delays in getting a response or the answer you need I would make a call to the senior person and let them know why you’re calling, what you are doing to resolve the issue and exactly when you will be back to them with more information.

Engaging in an email war of words with multiple people cc’d only asks for trouble. And when I say trouble I mean multiple emails, opinions from those who aren’t decision makers and more work. Not to mention some aggravation for yourself!

And you don’t need an audience whilst you resolve a conflict or a misunderstanding.

Make direct contact to resolve an email issue.

Make direct contact to resolve an email issue.

If you do need to respond by email:

2. Be clear. Crystal clear.

There are some circumstances (time zones, availability etc.) where the issue has to stay on email.

Be really clear in what you write; don’t say anything that can be subject to misinterpretation.

Choose your words carefully.

Ask someone to proof read your response to make sure that your meaning is obvious.

3. Take the emotion out

Don’t reply to an email when you are angry or emotional.

Go for a walk, do something else and if at all possible, leave it until the next day before you respond. Angry exchanges back and forth will ignite, not resolve, a situation.

Choose words that are factual and positive and reinforce that you are seeking a resolution to the issue.

4. Acknowledge the other person

Thank the person for their email and succinctly paraphrase your understanding of what they have said.

If you have interpreted what they meant properly – acknowledging their position is respectful.

But there’s a chance (it may be remote, but there is a chance) that you have misunderstood what they meant. Checking your understanding will confirm that you are at least talking about the same thing!

5. Remove the cc’s

If you do need to respond by email it’s better if you can do it without an audience. Whoever has been copied is likely to have opinions or want to become involved – which just adds complexity to the resolution of the issue.

Communicate with the other party involved directly. Once you’ve achieved the outcome you can then go back to the cc’s and let them know the outcome. Most will be relieved that the problem is solved and that they haven’t had to be subject to multiple emails.

6. Manage expectations

If there isn’t going to be a fast resolution send an email letting all those involved know what is going on, who is doing what and when they should expect to know when the issue is resolved.

You’ll be seen as professional, the emails will be reduced and most importantly everyone can get on with business.

7. Follow up

Every time I suggest taking an email off line by calling or going to see the person involved I get comments like “but I need an email trail” or “there won’t be a record of who said what”.  

Which is often true.

But I think it’s often used as an excuse to stay behind the safety of a keyboard rather than have to have a tough conversation. And unfortunately some organizational cultures require that you ‘cover your back’ by having proof of everything that happens.

The way around this is to send a follow up email after any offline conversations or agreements. For example,  “Just a quick note to confirm our agreement…. ” or ” A short note to thank you for helping to resolve…” 

This provides another chance to confirm the outcome, reinforce your professionalism and gives you a record of what was discussed or agreed.

George Clemenceau (French Prime Minister during World War 1) once said, “It’s far easier to make war than peace”. So true.

When it comes to email I reckon, It’s far easier to take the time to resolve a conflict than deal with the consequences!

The Career Tip To Go: Don’t play Email Wars – there aren’t any winners. Find ways to resolve the issue and maintain relationships.


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The Robots are coming! 5 Reasons why you need career skills…

The robots are coming...your job might not exist tomorrow

The robots are coming…do you have the skills you need if your job doesn’t exist tomorrow?

by Karen Adamedes

You might not want to take a yoga class led by a robot but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that robots and other technological advances will change the job market. And the type of jobs available.

We’re already seeing declines in the number of people in jobs such as telephone operator, retail cashier and travel agent. The typing pool, filing clerks and elevator operators are roles already assigned to history. Other jobs that are forecast to decline rapidly include sales roles, mortgage advisers and even social media managers.

There’s a good chance that you will need to change profession, company or role, if not now, at sometime in your career.

Your next job or role might not even exist at the moment.

Which makes the skills you need to be both good at your job and to manage your career essential.

They will help you showcase your abilities and provide you with choices. Choices about where you work, who you work for and the kind of work you do.

MongoDB CEO Matt Schireson recently announced he was stepping down from the role he described on his blog as the “best job I ever had” to get some balance back in his life. He said, “Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so.” He went on to say, “As great as this job has been, I look forward to creating one which is even better.”

He has the confidence that he has the skills to carve out a role that he will enjoy. The skills that let him make the choice he wants.

These skills are not an option. They are as important to your working life as hash tags are to Twitter, Robin is to Batman, or bacon is to eggs (you get the picture).

And it’s not just fear of robots replacing you and having the ability to make choices why it’s important to work on your career skills, there are some other good ones like:

1. You Need To Eat.

Along with those other basics of life – shelter, clothing and Wi-Fi, food is right up there on the list of things you need money to pay for. Earning what you’re worth is the best way to make sure you eat well!

Career Skills will help you reach your potential, be able to communicate the value that you contribute and make sure that you have the ability to negotiate what you’re paid (and many, many more!).

If you’re going to spend your time working, shouldn’t you earn as much as you can?

And eat as well as you want?

And afford unlimited Wi-Fi?

2. Minutes Tick By Slowly

Very slowly if you don’t like your work.

There is nothing slower than the minutes counting down to knock-off time if don’t enjoy what you do. And there’s plenty of them in your working life (minutes, that is!). In fact, 4,920,960 is a conservative estimate of the number of minutes you will be working during your career. It’s a lot of time to watch the clock if you’re not doing something that you at least like.

The ability to take control of your career will ensure that you will get the knowledge, skills and experience that you need to choose where you work, who you work for and the type of work that you want to do. You need to have the skills to get the opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills and experience you need to be able to make those choices.

As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  I’ll add, “or have to waste those precious minutes of your life watching the clock!” 

Get immersed in something you really enjoy and time can just seem to disappear. And you’ll feel like you have spent it doing something you enjoy or that at the very least interests you!

(For the number crunchers out there the minutes of the day estimate is 8 hours a day, 233 days of the year for 44 years…it’s actually 295,257,600 seconds, but I didn’t want to freak you out…)

3. The person most interested in your career is…you!

That’s right. The person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning is the one who has the most to win or lose out of your career decisions.

They’re the one who is in the position to make the biggest difference to your career.

They’re also the only person who is going to be with you your entire career. And has the most interest in what you do, how you do it and if you enjoy it.

Other people may be supportive and provide you with coaching, guidance and training. They may provide you with unbelievable opportunities, great advice or fabulous sponsorship. But you are going to be with you your whole life…and ultimately your career. The choices you make are up to you. Developing the skills you need to manage your career is up to you.

4. Being good at what you do is not enough

You do need to be good at your job.

In fact, you need to be the very best at your job as you can. But that is unlikely to be enough in the madcap world of business targets, customer demands and busy schedules.

Nor is being dedicated, working long hours or leaping over small buildings in a single bound!

You need the skills to communicate who you are, what you do and the contributions that you are making.

You need to be able to sell your ideas for others to understand your contribution and appreciate the value that you bring to your role.

You need the skills to establish an operating style that helps you be effective in your work and builds you a positive reputation.

How you work with others and how you are known to work are great drivers of whether other people want to have you on their teams, or work with or for you.

These are all career skills that will empower you to be good at what you do and provide you with choices about your career.

5. The robots ARE coming

Bill Gates called it “software substitution” when he spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in March and as Business Insider reported said, Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. … Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. … 20 years from now, labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”

Software substitution or robots, tomato or tomato (think different pronunciations!), call it what you will – technology is going to and has already made significant changes in the hobs that are available.

Remember it’s only in the last 10 years that the iPhone, Facebook and Twitter have been part of our lives. Who knows what the next ten years will bring?

Ensuring that you have the right skills (as opposed to the right job title) is what will enable you to adapt and navigate your career path through change. They will allow you to proactively manage your career to make the best choices and negotiate the best outcomes for you. Skills for networking, working with mentors, negotiating your salary and knowing when it’s time to move on (to name just a few).

And make friends with the robots…they look like they have cool cars!

Career Tip To Go: Commit to developing your career skills.

And you will be good to go!

– Karen

Next week: What are career skills?

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5 Reasons not to work when you travel for business

Do you know who you're sitting next to when you work?

Do you know who you’re sitting next to when you work on the go?

By Karen Adamedes. 

If you travel for business you know just how time consuming it can be.

The taxi to the airport, maybe drop off a bag, undress to get through security (well it feels like that some days), a quick coffee, board, the actual flight and then the convoluted process at the other end! Deplaning whilst your fellow passengers play a round of ‘wrestle-the-bag’ from the overhead locker, waiting for your luggage (if you’re not a bag wrestler) the line for a taxi, the trip to your destination listening to the cab driver on the phoneand hey presto, you’re where you need to be! My recent 30 minute flight from Sydney to Canberra took me just on 2 1/2 hours door to door – and that was a quick trip!

It’s no wonder that it can be tempting to make up for this ‘lost’ time and work on the plane (train or automobile!).

There are at least 5 good reasons why this is not a great idea – but I’m guessing this first one should be enough to convince you!

Think about this:

Reason 1: If they can read it, they can tweet it!

Or post it to Facebook. Or take a photo and Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr suddenly become your unplanned go-to-market strategy.

No matter how confidential (or not) your work, or how discrete you think you are being, do you really want to chance it that others can see what you’re working on?

If it is confidential – the results could be disastrous. Do you know who is sitting next to you? Or across the aisle? Or nearby with a good view of your work? Do you know who they work for? Who their friends are? Not only do you not know everyone who might be able to see your work, you don’t know who they know! They may not be a direct competitor but they might think that whatever you are working on is interesting enough to mention to someone. And it may not get shared on social media, but it could become the topic for a coffee or at a weekend BBQ.

A friend of mine recently saw a branding strategy for a minor celebrity that one of their team was reviewing on a flight in full view. They may have been a minor celebrity but well-known enough that if it had been someone without integrity in the next seat it might very well have been leaked on the Internet rather than form the basis of our, “This is why we don’t work on planes” conversation. We regularly have this, along with one of our other soapbox topics, “That’s why you don’t have confidential meetings in coffee shops”.

[Sidebar story – waiting to get my lunch in an airport this week I heard an organizations strategy to field a political candidate to represent their interest being loudly and clearly discussed. I was a little unclear about exactly what organization they were from, but one of the guys was helpfully wearing a t-shirt that had their name embroidered over the pocket. Maybe they would like some publicity but I don’t think that was their plan. What exactly were they thinking?]

Anyway back to working when you travel, the bottom line is – if you wouldn’t tweet it or invite strangers into your office whilst you work – don’t work on it where others can see it!!

What’s the worst that can happen? You lose your competitive advantage? You disclose confidential information? You violate customer or employee privacy? You lose credibility? Is it worth the risk?

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a few other thoughts:

Reason 2: It’s Uncomfortable!

It really doesn’t matter how small your laptop – the combination of the size of your tray table, the recline on the seat in front, your bag under the seat in front (or worse overhead) does not make for an ideal ergonomic work space. Throw a coffee into the mix and you have a potential disaster on your hands!

Reason 3: You need to relax and recharge (sometime…why not now?)

‘Down time’ often leads to your best thinking. Switching off with a good book, trashy magazine (how else are you going to keep up with those Kardashian’s?), favorite movie or TV show can give you time to turn off and recharge. You’ll be more effective when you get back to work.

Reason 4: It’s a chance to learn something

If you can’t bring yourself to actually relax – there are other ways to recharge. Use this valuable time to read an article or business book to learn something or keep up-to-date. Airport book stores are full of business related material. When else are you going to get some uninterrupted time to read stuff?

Reason 5: You could miss the chance to talk to someone really interesting

Now don”t get me wrong, I’m not a plane (train or any other transport) talker. I am much more likely to opt for the music /games on my iPad combo but over the years of business travel I’ve chatted with pilots, business people and even a guy who had represented in Australia in curling at the Olympics (I know, we all laugh about it when the winter Olympics are on – but he was really interesting).

Delightful little interludes that help you practice your communication skills (It’s amazing how much you can learn when you ask the right questions) and give you a little bit bigger world view that the meetings that are likely book-ending your trip.

Personally, I don’t get as much time as I would like to listen to music, so reason no. 3 is enough to justify not working when I travel for business. But even if you’re not a music/TV/movie/trashy magazine lover – the fear of being tweeted should get you over the line!

The Career Tip To Go: Don’t work when you’re on the go!

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Make business meetings worthwhile with an agenda!

An agenda can help make your meeting worthwhile

An agenda can help make your meeting worthwhile

How many meetings do you go to in a month, week or even each day?

And how many of those are a joy to attend?

A really valuable use of your time? Where you feel that the organizer is well prepared and put some thought into the time they have asked you to devote to the meeting?

I’m guessing not all of them? In fact, I’ll say it’s likely to be very few of them? (Sad but probably true!)

Based on the general feedback about meetings – many are if not unorganized and a waste of time, at least considered to be not as useful and productive as they could be. (I’m being nice ‘meetings bloody meetings’ is a well searched term in Google – if that gives you any indication how people feel about them!)

Someone decides it’s a good idea to have a weekly meeting and everyone just rolls up. If there ever was a real purpose to the meeting it’s been long forgotten but the meeting is still scheduled as a “catch up”. And no one has put any time into preparation. Or someone wants an issue discussed so they invite everyone and anyone to attend and waste a lot of people’s time.

When it’s you who is responsible for setting up or running a meeting – you have the power to change all that! One of the ways you can do that is to have an agenda. It seems pretty basic…but how many meetings do you go to where there is not one?

Career Tip To Go: Prepare an agenda!

An agenda can make a real difference to how effective a meeting is and how people view you and your level of professionalism.

A meeting agenda should be sent in advance. You’re not holding a surprise party – it is a useful reminder about where the meeting is to be held, who will be there, when and for how long. More importantly though, it sets very clear expectations about the topic that is to be covered and what is expected to be achieved in this time. And provides notice about any preparation that needs to be done in advance.

Not only does this help others prepare for the meeting, it positively influences the perceptions about the meeting and the person responsible; you! The level of preparation you do for a meeting and how this demonstrates your understanding of the issues that are to be discussed and your respect for the time of the participants are all indicators of the likely value of the meeting and impact your credibility. (As well as helping you have a worthwhile meeting this seems like a pretty good reason to spend time on an agenda).

Even if there’s only a few people attending, it’s well worth the investment of a few minutes to prepare an agenda in advance, as opposed to scribbling something down as you walk into the room – or worse yet when you sit down at a table with a whole lot of expectant faces looking at you to lead off the discussion. (Yes guilty as charged I have done this when I’ve been busy and it never goes well!).

So with this in mind, here are some items to include on a meeting agenda:

What to include


Include the:

  • date
  • time
  • length of meeting
  • location, telephone and video link details
  • who will be attending – make sure you spell all names correctly (they won’t read anything else on there if you don’t!)
  • titles of participants – unless people work in the same immediate team, include the titles of people attending on the agenda. This helps other participants know who is attending and can also provide indications of the seniority level of attendees and the breadth of issues being covered. It will help others prepare – reminder, it’s not a surprise party.

Agenda Items

The agenda items should cover:

  • each topic to be discussed
  • how long each item has been allocated for discussion
  • who is speaking or leading the discussion
  • any outcomes / decisions that are required on the day.

Deciding on agenda items

As well as your own objectives for the meeting or the obvious items that need to be included – think about what other people’s expectations for the meeting are and what topics that they might think need to be included.

Another great tactic is to ask people what they want included (saves guessing!) This is particularly important if there are people more senior in the ranks, or representatives from another company or department who will be attending the meeting. Or people from your team who don’t get the purpose of the meeting. This gives you a chance to explain.

People like being asked. They feel respected. Which is a great way for people to feel when they come to your meeting. It will help it be productive. And you’ll find out topics that need to be included. It might be a little bit 1990’s retro but this really is a win – win situation!

Send the agenda in advance

It’s common courtesy to let people know if they have an item to talk to or something they need to bring to the meeting before the meeting. This is stakeholder engagement 101 – let people know what is required of them before they get there. It gives them time to prepare and also for you to confirm that they will be able to deliver what you need. Otherwise, you might very well find yourself with a very big black hole in your agenda…or find out that the objectives of the meeting can’t be met. (It can save both you and others from wasting time and from potential embarrassment!)

Depending on the size, importance and frequency of the meeting consider how far in advance you need to send the agenda out to allow people sufficient time to prepare. At a bare minimum for a regular meeting it should go out the day before so that people have time to read, reflect and complete any preparation that is required. For a one-off or high level meeting it may need to go out several weeks in advance.


When will you find the time?

When you send out an invite for people to attend the meeting, work out when you are going to prepare the agenda and book that time in your diary at the same time. If it doesn’t take as long as you think…bingo you have some extra time in your day. If you don”t allocate that time how will you remember you need to do it? And with you diary no doubt filling up with meeting requests from others…where will you find the time?

These are simple and basic tips for meeting agendas but people don’t always do them.

When you do it will help you have better meetings and reflect well on your personal operating style and professional reputation.

Others will remember when you demonstrate that you value their time, are organized and run a good meeting.

Prepare an agenda and you and your meeting will be good to go!

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