Advice About Writing–And Not Writing–Letters And Emails
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.
Whatyousay.com advises you never to send a letter or email when
*…you’re really, really angry
You will regret it later if you do. Oh, I know the feeling. You’re outraged, your blood is boiling. you want to say something that strikes deep.In these situations, it is so tempting just to start writing.
Well, go ahead and write. Put your thoughts on paper. Read them out loud. But, don’t send it right away. Wait at least 24 hours, unless it’s an emergency. If it can wait, do wait to see if you still see the situation the same way.
Abraham Lincoln wrote some pretty harsh letters that he never mailed. One of them was to Major General George Meade, who was the commanding general at Gettysburg. Lincoln was distraught when Meade didn’t follow up the Gettysburg victory by quickly and aggressively pursuing Robert E. Lee. Lee escaped with his army battered but intact, and the war lasted two more years.
Lincoln’s letter to General Meade was later found in a drawer of Lincoln’s desk, after his death–never sent.
If, after you’ve regained your composure, you you still think a message should be sent–and sometimes you should send a strong message–think of the best possible way to word your letter or email. Read or show it to a wise friend, or to your mastermind group. Then, if it feels right, send it.
Another alternative is to let your attorney send the letter or make the contact. If it’s a serious matter, it probably should be done by a professional. Attorneys are trained to take a detached, rational view of a situation.
*…you haven’t done your homework.
During the years that I spent teaching at large, well-known universities, I made a number of presentations at professional meetings, and published articles in refereed scholarly journals. When I did, I made it my business to read every possible relevant article or book. (Scholarly journals typically include a section in which the authors discuss the literature on the subject being discussed.)
Every scholar knows how deadly it can be for another scholar to publicly point out a critical omission. Fortunately I was fortunate never to be humiliated in that way, but I have witnessed it happen to others. It is not a pretty sight.
You may not be a scholar, but you will look foolish if you blast away in your business or personal life without getting all the relevant facts. The operative saying for this situation is “Don’t go off half-cocked.”
Sometimes it takes a lot of time to gather all the relevant facts, but that is better than the alternative. Even if your sin of omission does not bring humiliation, those who know know, and your reputation will be diminished.
*…you could communicate better on the phone or face-to-face.
Billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Fuqua–whom I interviewed for USA Today and for Time Tactics of Very Successful People–told me that he never wrote a letter if he could make a phone call. “I think they should teach students how to use the phone in business school,” he once told me. (The business school at Duke University is named the Fuqua School of Business.)
If you do decide to make a phone call or communicate face-to-face, do what Fuqua did before he made a phone call. He wrote out a script that included the points he wished to make, the wording of his key messages, and the objective of the call–what was the outcome that he hoped to achieve.
In summary, the next time you feel the need to write a letter or email, don’t send it if you’re angry, if you haven’t done your homework, and if there’s a better way to communicate.
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