Some of you may have heard the stir about Virginia Thomas’ recent voicemail to Anita Hill.  (If you’re too young to know who these people are, I’m going to hate you for three seconds.  There. I’m good now.) I’ll leave the political commentary on that situation to others.  Instead, I want to highlight something I see with alarming frequency in organizations.

Do you ever draft an email and have that moment of pause before hitting send – wondering whether it’s such a good idea? If you’re like me, you probably have at least one email you’d like to take back. Maybe even one today…

When leaders share emails they have received (or sent) that set off a firestorm of additional emails (cc’ing the known universe), water cooler conversations, and revisionist history, I have one thought.

What a waste.

What a waste of time, energy, and perfectly good (or at least functional) relationships with clients, colleagues, or partners.  And it’s all because we don’t take the five seconds required to think through the outcomes we want and the likely results of our actions.

To help, I’ve put together a first draft of a flow chart to guide these decisions.

Notice that you can get several different outcomes depending on how you play the game:

  1. You can deliver an informational, non-inflammatory message to a willing audience (a GREAT use of email).
  2. You can raise hell. (While this can be fun, it does have its consequences.)
  3. You can position yourself for a useful conversation with the other party.

This, of course, begs the question of whether we know how to have those conversations – and whether we have the energy required to do them well.  I’d guess this is really why we send the Ginni Thomas-type emails (or voicemails).

I’d say more, but I have an email to write.