Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails

In an earlier post Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails I outlined some practical methods for responding to angry emails effectively. This solves part of the problem but it would be far better if angry emails were never sent in the first place.

There are some people who regularly resort to sending angry emails -- every organization seems to have at least one employee who is part troll -- but even otherwise calm and measured people can slip into this mistake occasionally. And this is a mistake. Sending angry emails can have negative effects that go beyond the obvious.

ANGRY EMAILS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE. A polite and respectful email is much more likely to achieve results than one that is angry and perhaps disrespectful, both in the short term and long term. Other people are always more co-operative with someone who treats them well and they will feel a stronger commitment to your goal when you ask nicely. Remember that at the end of the year when your results are being evaluated and rewarded nobody will ask you how many email battles you won. All they care about are the business goals and results you were expected to achieve; winning email battles actually gets in the way of the real objectives.

ANGRY EMAILS INCREASE STRESS. There's an interesting exercise you can try one day when you are very calm: sit down and try to write an example of a hostile email. What you will discover is that even writing just an example email never intended for sending makes you feel uncomfortably stressed, a fact I discovered once just preparing examples for an email workshop. By deciding to send only calm, polite and respectful mails you reduce the stress levels of the people around you and you reduce your own stress. When someone resorts to hostile emails everybody suffers, including the sender. Increased stress is by itself a problem and can lead to a higher staff turnover. It also impacts performance negatively.

ANGRY EMAILS CAN EMBARRASS YOU. If ineffectiveness and stress are not sufficient reason to avoid sending angry emails, consider that they can also come back to embarrass you in a very public way when they are given a circulation broader than you intended. Before you send a mail ask yourself how you would feel if it went viral on social media or if it were published in major newspapers. This is a genuine risk. Ask Neal Patterson, who as CEO of the Cerner Corporation in March 2001 famously sent an angry email to company managers who leaked it to media. The resulting media storm caused the company's stock to fall 22%. This tale is immortalized in the Wikipedia biography of Patterson and lives on in the archives of media in articles like the New York Times' A Stinging Office Memo Boomerangs; Chief Executive Is Criticized After Upbraiding Workers by E-Mail. More recently executives at Sony Pictures were also embarrassed when hackers stole and published internal emails never intended for the public. As Rory Carroll warned in the Guardian article Sony Style Hack Attack Could Happen Anywhere this is a warning to all companies: this could happen to anyone and your snarky, childish mails might end up on Reddit. Facebook and Twitter for everyone to read.

There is a very clear lesson here that you should never be writing or sending angry emails. There are many techniques for avoiding this, some of these are already mentioned in Three Tips for responding to Angry Emails but there are many more and this will be the topic for another post in the not-so-distant future. If you have a management role you should also be watching that none of your subordinates make this mistake. Let it be clear to everyone in your organization that email wars are an unproductive waste of time and should never be started or continued by anyone in your team.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about email -- especially global email -- and other communication topics you can contact me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. There are also outlines of selected lectures and workshops on my website http://andrewhennigan.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Three Ways to Ensure Journalists Will Contact You Again

Recently I wrote some guidelines about How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly. Since then several people have asked about a related question: how you make sure that journalists will ask you for comments again in the future.

As a freelance journalist I have asked many other people for comments and in my role as consultant I have also been on the other side, so I have learned why some people get contacted just once while others are asked again and again. There are actually just three simple yet important rules to follow.

RESPOND QUICKLY. When you are asked if you are interested in commenting on some topic you should respond as quickly as possible. The journalist is almost certainly working to deadline and needs to talk to a number of sources. Knowing who is interested and who isn't is very important. If you don't respond they don't know if you plan to respond later and maybe have to choose someone else instead. At this stage it is enough to state that you are interested and intend to respond, asking for clarification if needed. This simple gesture makes you stand out as a useful and dependable source even before you have answered any questions.

RESPECT DEADLINES. Always make sure that you know when the deadline is and respect it. If you promised to send something by Friday make sure that you send it by Friday. Comments that are too late might still be squeezed into the article, but they are likely to be further down or in a less important role. They might also be thrown away if they arrive too late to be used. What is worse is that once you miss one deadline you are likely never going to be asked again. On the other hand if you are scrupulous about respecting deadlines you stand out among all the other sources and you are almost guaranteed to be asked again, unless your inputs are not usable.

PROVIDE USABLE ANSWERS. Confirming availability and meeting deadlines are very important, but even that will not get your name added to the list of trusted sources unless you actually provide usable answers. There are three elements in this. First of all you have to read all the instructions very carefully and make sure that you are addressing the right question. At the same time provide more than is actually needed so that the journalist can choose the best parts but without sending too many words. Finally, make sure that your comments are not over-promotional. Never use the language of brochures or advertising in your responses, avoiding the kinds of phrases like "world's leading X" that do not sound like serious journalism.

Follow these three rules diligently and you are likely to be asked to comment again in future by journalists you have already spoken to. You are also more likely to be contacted by other journalists who have either seen your name mentioned in other articles -- often the sign of a good source -- or you are recommended to them by people you have impressed.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me at writer@andrewhennigan.com or by phone on +33 6 79 61 42 81 or +46 730 894 475. You can also find more information on my website http://andrewhennigan.com


Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Influencing is Better than Convincing

When people find out that I teach influencing workshops one of the first questions is sometimes "How do I convince someone to..." as though there is some magic formula to persuade people to do things that they don't want to do. There are, in fact, some manipulative techniques that let you do exactly that, but only for a short time. In the mid and long term the only way to get people to do the things that you want them to do is to influence them, which is very different.

One of the principles of effective influencing is that you should not create an idea in a vacuum then try to convince people to accept it. Instead you should let the people around you help shape the idea until it is in a form that works for you and works for them, then it is accepted willingly. 

This is effective because people are naturally reluctant to accept something unfamiliar. You might be familiar with this from the common dislike of new things which are later accepted. Every time there is a new version of Facebook, for example, many people complain. Give them time, though, and in the end they like it. They like it so much that when the next new version comes along they complain that they liked the old one -- the one that they hated when it was new.

The process or evolving your idea to be accepted also ensures that it becomes more familiar and less threatening. At the same time you discover and disarm all the objections to your idea. Sometimes a small change that makes no difference to you is extremely important for someone else and makes the difference between rejection and acceptance. In other cases just discussing the problems with other stakeholders convinces them that your idea is, in fact, better than they thought.

More generally, instead of convincing someone to accept something that you propose it is better to influence them by following these three steps:

Define your objective. First decide what it is that you want to do exactly. This is much harder than most people imagine. Often people insist on some aspect of their plan which is actually secondary. What is it that you really want? Spend some time defining the core objective, the part you must have. Once you have a clear idea of which parts of your idea are optional it becomes much easier to make it work for everyone else.

Evangelize your idea. Never try to convince someone to decide about something they just heard about. People are always doubtful about things the first time they heard about them. Familiarity breeds trust so just talking about something for a while makes it more acceptable. This means that you shouldn't present a new idea and then ask for a decision; this is a quick way to get a negative response. Instead talk about your ideas with everyone over a period of time long enough for everyone to get used to the idea. Exactly how long this is depends on how radical is the idea. When the first serious proposal for a one-way trip to Mars was aired it was considered ridiculous. Today many people consider it seriously.

Listen to feedback. Listen very carefully to all of the objections and adapt your idea to address as many of these as possible. Very often the idea can be fine-tuned to make it acceptable to more people. Make sure you also talk to adversaries; their inputs can be very helpful because people who are opposed to an idea are more likely to find real problems with your ideas. This work to refine the idea usually makes it stronger and better for everyone and at the same time these conversations reduce opposition. Most ideas are, in fact, not really ready when they are first conceived and need a concerted effort and the help of many other people to turn them into something useful.

One final word of warning: Once your idea has been accepted the influencing isn't over. Keep listening to the conversation because someone might be trying to revert the decision. Be always vigilant and don't let someone else undo your work. This is especially true if you did a poor job of bringing the opposition on board. Those opponents that you simply ignored are always there somewhere, waiting for their chance to undo your work.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about influencing and other topics you can reach me by email on conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website http://andrewhennigan.com