Beware of messages that sound defensive

Today, I had an experience at work that may sound familiar to you. A manager questioned the time it took me to complete a project.

I received an email from a manager asking me to account for my time on a project completed two months ago, requesting a breakdown of the activities and the associated hours worked. It would have been easy for me to go on the defensive and reply back that I simply don’t remember and have never received this request before, but I followed one of my own rules that I want to share. First, do not be quick to respond. Take a deep breath, walk away and think about it. Then come back with a rational state of mind, and put yourself inside the other person’s head.

Keeping in mind that people have their own agenda, which likely has nothing to do with me, I composed a response that conveyed a positive outlook, showed an understanding of the request and provided as comprehensive an answer as possible. I began the email stating that I was happy to offer him the activity details though unable to backtrack on the activity timeline, and then proceeded to list each action I took to complete the project.

Beware of the word “unfortunately.” It sends the wrong message. Just answer the question. Don’t make excuses. Then proofread the email. Walk away, come back and proofread it again, not just for spelling and grammar but for tone as well.

When someone asks you for information and you cannot give them everything they want, give them something. Keep the tone professional and polite. People remember that, in a good way. Going on the defensive only serves to enrage people, and that will come back to haunt you in the end.

 

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