I work in a client-facing business, so I tend to have to eat a lot of sh*t. True, most of my clients are actually good (even great) human beings with whom I sincerely enjoy working. But there always seems to be at least one person who simply gets under my skin and works hard to stay there.
Currently, it's a serious monkey-scribbling douchebag who can't seem to figure out how to write to me with a modicum of grace and respect. The weird thing is that he's completely fine in person and on the phone. He appreciates the care and attention we bring to his project and understands that he's put us in a tough position. He says that he loves what we have done for him and that he's impressed with the product.
Now, I always strive to put myself in my client's shoes. From what I can see of him, he's a beleaguered owner of a company that is struggling to survive and he's scraping a living out of something that is his passion. He has bills to pay and mouths to feed. I completely understand. He's in a tough situation with a client and expects my company to pull out all the stops in order to make him look good. Honestly, I have no problem with that - that's part of what my company does. Or, at least, I wouldn't have a problem with it if he didn't come across as such a majorly disrespectful a$$hole in his written communications.
It has struck me lately that the written word can be a keen gateway into someone's true feelings. In person, people can hide behind smiles and crocodile tears. On the phone, you just need to put on a smile and breathe evenly in order to come across as cheery and sincere. People are damn good actors so much of the time because we are, in essence, extremely selfish creatures. Really, it's in our own best interest to play nice with others in order to get what we want and make our own lives easier. Yet, so many people forget this when writing. We just dash things off, thinking nothing of them because communication is faster and easier than ever.
Don't just dash off that note! Seriously, how difficult is it simply to rearrange some words and add a please and thank you? So, here's a fabricated example of a communication after-and-before:
What a respectful, considerate human being would send: I'm wondering when you think a final version will be available for me to review. It doesn't look quite ready yet. We're on a tight deadline. There are several changes I'd like to make. What would be the best way for me to provide you with feedback?
What a professional douchebag would send: When do you think we will see a final version of this? I can't believe this is such a mess. I was under the impression that it was ready to go.
Here are a few hints, Mr. Pro-Douchebag:
- Grow up. The world doesn't revolve around you. Stop thinking that throwing tantrums will get you what you want.
- Don't exaggerate, fabricate, lie by omission or fling around inaccurate blame. Know the situation and the expectations before you get all up in arms.
- Honey frequently works better than caustic acid when it comes to any relationship. In fact, you'll actually get more out of me and I'll be more committed to working with you if you are nice.
- Read what you have written before you hit send and think about how someone might take it. Put yourself in that person's place.
- Never hit send when you are in an emotional or stressed out state or if you have any trepidation about the communication you have created. Stop, give it some time and go to #4.
- Grow up. (I know that was #1. It's worth repeating.)
I have frequently heard the adage "don't read tone into emails" but come on! How can I not when it's so ridiculously blatant? But really, it says more about the person writing it than it does about me. In fact, it's not about me at all and I work not to take it personally. I know that I strive to do my best. And, no matter how enraged I am by tone and attitude, I suck it up, breathe and continue to treat douchebags with the respect and cordiality that I expect from others. I may bitch to my co-workers, but I won't fall to level D. It's not my style. Besides, I find that it's just easier to be nice than to piss people off.