When questioning content, avoid the word “you.” It’s a tiny word with a huge impact. Especially in written form, it sounds accusatory and immediately puts someone on the defensive. Check out these examples and think about which version you’d rather receive:
The “You” Version: Why did you write the report this way?
The Alternative: Why was the report written this way?
The “You” Version: I don’t understand why you reached out to her.
The Alternative: Could you help me understand why she was contacted?
The “You” Version: You made a mistake in the 2nd paragraph.
The Alternative: There was a mistake in the 2nd paragraph.
If you’re like most people, you’d rather receive the alternative version. Thankfully, there’s always a way to remove the “you,” so watch for those opportunities and you’ll maintain valuable goodwill.
When communicating even slightly unpleasant information, using the “good-bad-good” formula is the way to go. There are real people on the other end of the “send” button, and you will get a lot further if you allow them to save face. Here’s how to do it:
1. Express appreciation and/or gratitude.
2. Share the less pleasant news.
3. End on a positive note by expressing your appreciation and/or gratitude again.
Simple examples of the good/bad/good formula in action:
Thanks so much for sharing these ideas. Because of the tight timeline, we won’t be able to incorporate them into this project, but we will definitely consider them for the next one. We really appreciate hearing your thoughts, so if anything else comes to mind, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.
I really appreciate your hard work on the brochure. It looks great! I only noticed one small issue – could the phone number please be adjusted to 555-223-7469? Thanks for all your help!
It’s better to ask than to demand. “Would you please send the report by Monday?” sounds much more pleasant than “Send the report by Monday.” Both sentences convey the same information, but given the choice, most of us would rather be asked than told. Start paying attention to how often you are making demands and see if you can’t turn more of those statements into questions.
In Part 1, I shared how I led a US-based team that worked with 20 other offices around the world. We didn’t get to see people from the other offices very often, but on one of those few occasions, a team member from Australia thanked me. Why? He appreciated our emails! He said they always showed that we cared about him and his team. It was gratifying to hear that our email efforts had paid off. A huge part of showing that we cared came from our tone – and the use of the tips I’ve shared here.
Never forget the human element of email. Sometimes the distance of global teams makes it easier to overlook, but I assure you that there’s still a person with feelings on the other end. Show them that you care by paying attention to your tone. It makes more of an impact that you realize.