Every cog in the corporate chain knows this feeling. An email appears in your inbox. You open it up and read it. Then you say to yourself:
“WTF. I never agreed to this”
What happens next determines your ability to survive in that world.
Do you fire off a quick response, hitting reply-all? Do you call the person a liar, fool or some other name that sparks an email battle? Most of us have done that once. We soon learn those kinds of responses fail to solve problems.
Those of us who learn from such mistakes tend to survive the firestorms. Those who succumb to knee-jerk reactions lose their allies and make enemies.
Still, this kind of confusion occurs often. We exchange rapid-fire emails. We each interpret in our own way. A colleague or client hears what they want to hear. They saddle you with a commitment you never agreed to.
How do you respond in a way that frees you of your commitment without angering the other party?
Make Your Opponent A Hero
Follow the first rule of persuasion. Avoid backing your opponent into a corner. Put them on the defensive and you invite a counter-attack. Instead, ask yourself how you could get what you want while making the other guy the hero.
When you make an opponent the hero, that opponent becomes your ally. It triggers the urge to reciprocate (unless he’s a sociopath).
Here’s how it worked for me yesterday.
This email angered me at first. I wanted to punch a hole through a wall.
“He’s trying to put words in my mouth,” I thought
That moment is the worst time to respond, especially by email.
I went for a ten-minute walk to allow my emotions to die down.
A Telephone, Really?
When I got back, I picked up the phone. Yes, I spoke to a human being.
Why? A simple discussion resolves differences like this in minutes. Back and forth email worsens the problem, even with the best of intentions.
I explained what my interpretation was of our initial meeting. He explained his thinking. I could see how our lines crossed. He agreed.
Then, we came to the pivotal moment.
“How do you communicate to your boss that we cannot meet this demand? Is there any other concession I can make that will put you in a good light?”
My exact wording may have differed, but that’s the gist of it.
In the end, I escaped this unwanted commitment. I made a small concession to do something we planned on doing anyway. I told him he could send out a revised email. It would state we agreed to do “xyz” instead of the original plan. It made my counterpart look like the hero of the day.
In the eyes of his boss, he corralled the “evil vendor” into doing what they agreed to do.
The Key Takeaway
Stop thinking about winning. When your blood boils over an infuriating email consider the impersonal nature of digital discussion Each person interprets their own way. Take a break. Resolve it one-on-one. Make your counterpart the hero. With few exceptions, he or she returns the favor.