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  • The C-Suite Minimalists

E-mail Wars. Do it not.

There are no winners in an e-mail war-zone.

Do you have an e-mail? Then you know what an e-mail war is. And you surely were in a battle at least once. There are two ways to become involved in e-mail wars.

  • The first way: as a direct participant. An e-mail enters the Inbox, you open it and you find it attacking, blaming, finger-pointing, threatening… you. Your blood boils, your hands start typing furious response as if your life depends on it. Hitting the “reply” (to all!) button triggers a subsequent storm.

  • Such emails usually come with an audience, conveniently seated “on copy”. And that is the second way to be dragged into an e-mail war: by becoming the viewer to a form of epistolary Mortal Combat.

There is only one sensible advice in view to e-mail wars. This advise is: Don’t!

An e-mail war is never resolved on the field it started: The Inbox. The more quickly you move it to a reasonable other location — a one-to-one or a limited-audience meeting in person or online — the more quickly a peace treaty with a lasting effect could be signed and sealed. Next time when you hear the sound of an incoming e-mail and smell the virtual ink of war, do one or more of the following: take a deep breath, count to 10, talk to a colleague, do 10 push-ups, walk around the block… Basically do anything, but to respond in a hurry. Instead invite the other side, and anyone interested, elsewhere (anywhere, but the warzone subject thread). Writing long explanatory e-mails as a response is a waste of time, yours mainly. No one actually reads them.

In case you are one of the “on copy” people, the best solution will be to kindly request to be excluded from the e-mail thread. People who accept to stay on copy in e-mails without adding any value, are in most occasions useless and incompetent, combined with apparent lack of awareness of that fact. Being on “copy” and reading other people’s correspondence gives them a false sense of getting work done.

When “on copy” you might be tempted to take sides in an e-mail war. That could be reasonably justified if a manager jumps to cut a false accusation or oral assault to a team member. But also in that occasion the best option is: Don’t do it! While previously the advise was to change the field, here it is better to change the weapon — instead of wasting virtual ink, use a phone or talk in person to the sender.

The key to remember: remove yourself from a warzone e-mail area. There are no real winners there.

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