Lessons learned

ARRRGGH! overlaid on email logo
Image modified from pixabay.com / CCO Public Domain

A brutal email from a co-worker received Friday has been eating away at me all weekend. I’m trying to brush it off. After all, I don’t believe it will have any long lasting repercussions, at least not for me. For her, it will reflect badly for some time.

She was angry, and the emotion came through loud and clear. Actually, the words screamed rage, and her statements came across as marching orders. This commandeering was inappropriate on several levels, First of all, I don’t report to her, and she does not outrank me. However, even if that was the case, it would not justify the harsh tone. In the corporate workplace, professionalism and civility should take priority in all communications. Unless, we’re on a coffee break and chatting about personal matters, the office is out of bounds for emotionally charged talk. Additionally, her boss had already emailed me about the matter and in a more civil tone, so the co-worker’s email was superfluous and came off as a cowardly attempt to distance herself from any shared blame.

Having said that, she had a point. I had handled a situation badly. With a demanding tone of voice that is counter to our company values, she previously asked me to perform a task out of scope for my job. I consulted others for direction who agreed it was in fact her role to execute this but recommended I compromise. As a result, rather than taking a clear position to either decline the request or accept the lead to get the job done, I engaged other stakeholders to get the ball rolling without sharing this approach with my co-worker. This backfired, and I knew there would be pushback. Her manager’s email to me, which included an apology for not setting clear expectations, was acceptable. The co-worker’s email, on the other hand, was over the line.

So, how do I deal with stuff like this and stop obsessing over it? I look for lessons learned from the experience to glean value from it. In the past, I tried to erase such experiences from memory but have since decided that is a futile exercise and a waste of potential opportunity. I prefer to discover a takeaway, now that I have already invested so much time stewing over it. Here’s what I plan to do and not do next time:

  1. Use her email as an example of what not to do should I find myself in her shoes. It is unprofessional, unbecoming, nonproductive and inevitably perceived badly by colleagues and those up the chain who have read it via copy or forwarding.
  2. I should trust my gut instinct about the potential fallout of my own actions and take proactive steps to avoid it.
  3. In the future, I would make it a point to respond decisively, albeit diplomatically, to inappropriate delegation of tasks.

I am also examining my work style. There was a time when I shouldered problem resolution to the point that I didn’t even ask others for advice or support. My approach was: my work, my problem. When I became aware of how frequently others consulted me or asked for help, I decided I had been foolish in feeling that I was always on my own. But I went to the other extreme by following advice I knew, though well-intended, was likely to end badly. From now on, I will look for the middle ground. Using others as a sounding board is fine but in the end, it may be better to use your best judgment based on experience and emotional intelligence to anticipate what will produce the most favorable outcome.

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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.

 

Email cover letters

Two facing laptops with an arm emerging from each screen and shaking hands on a white background
Image courtesy of Garfield Anderssen/flickr.com

Imagine screening hundreds of resumes, searching for the one that will make your job easier. Pressed for time and bleary-eyed, all you want is for the right words and phrases to pop out and yell, Here I am – the one you’ve been looking for.

A well-written cover letter can help both the candidate and hiring manager because it serves as a quick snapshot of a potential match. If written poorly, it will make the screener’s job easier, but not in a good way.

An impactful cover letter focuses on the reader’s objectives rather than the writer’s agenda. Here are a few ideas to accomplish that.

1. Avoid using “I” throughout the letter. This is tricky because, of course, your purpose is to pursue an opportunity; however, the letter needs to convey what the candidate brings to the organization to fill their need.

Example: Rather than I am very interested in this position, state As a graduate of _____ College with a ______ Degree, my knowledge and skills closely align to the requirements of this position.

2. Extract the components, action words and phrases from your resume that highlight your qualifications to the targeted position/ industry. Use bullet points.

Example:

  • Expertise in _________

  • Knowledge of ________

  • Proficiency in ________

  • Experience with ______

3. Structure the letter around three essential components:

Source: How did you hear about the position?

Qualifications: What school/work experience have you had that fills the company’s need?

Call to action: Include multiple ways to contact you.

4. Methodically check for grammatical and spelling errors. Don’t rely on the spell-check function as it does not pick up everything. A correctly spelled word may not make contextual sense.

5. Proofread carefully, being mindful that the letter is more than a cover for the resume. It is a demonstration of your email communication skills and attention to detail. Texting may have replaced email socially, but in the corporate world email is alive and well.

6. Close with an emphasis on your desire to apply your knowledge and skills to make a contribution to the organization.

Example: The opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills to support your organization’s goals would be an exciting challenge.