This writing is to share on how having a good email writing skill is important and what an effective email writing skill can do for you, from an experience that I have encountered during my time of working in my previous organization.
Many a times, as with any big organization, our colleagues, peers, superiors and customers do sometimes comes with different agenda as well as hidden agenda. For customers, they comes with certain expectations and to which we are there to meets these expectations according to what has been contracted. But not every customer would just operates at the professional level and there will be times when we meet someone who has his own agenda and his own interests hidden within his organization.
We have a very big customer and within this customer’s organization is this person who is known to be very tough to please – all of my peers-colleagues face a hard time from him. Many in my organization dreads to be put in any position that requires us to engage this particular person who is very well known for being a person who is very troublesome. If anyone of us could, we would avoid as much as we could having any interaction with him or put on a project under his scope.
The background of this person: He is holding very senior appointment in his area of specialization, expatriate status, lots of years in his field, writing reports like writing a thesis, never putting his signature on any reports nor signing anything even after he has actively spent days and weeks reviewing through every piece of document, non-committal to any agreement – quite unbelievable that there is such a job that allows no accountability. And the best part for him is that he represents our customer as their expert on quality matters.
He is based at our customer main office in another part of the country, who would occasionally come on-site to manage and makes visits with his engineers and inspectors who are working for him and reporting to him. For him, it is mostly a pen-pushing job as he puts up reports to his boss, usually a major project big guy. He does no field work because the bulk of the work has been delegated to the few people working under him, and all he need is to tighten the screw on his subordinates and extract high demands from them.
These subordinates are very fearful of him, especially when he raises questions after questions to them and expecting them to be able to show to him that they are catching many issues which in turn would push these subordinates to tighten the screws on us and gave us lots of problematic issues, with the mindset that the customer is always right and us have to bend over backward to accommodate them. So with this kind of abuse of their customer-is-right power, they keeps stretching their “difficult” attitude whenever they wanted us to be more compliant to their every demands. So not only is this person “difficult” and troublesome but the whole team with him is also “difficult” but he is more so.
Oh poor me that one day, I have been sent to one of the project that I have to face this “difficult” team, and as expected I could expect difficult times ahead for me from them.
So right from the start of this interaction with them, I have to be extra careful in what I does so as not to be caught with any issues that they can then picks on me. But I do knows that they will be working extra hard to find any mistakes on my part and so to score brownie points with their organizations because they depends on these brownie points to make them looks like they are great assets to their organization and worth the high costs of paying for their services. Nothing wrong with earning good money if they have done their services professionally but with some of their ridiculous demands which borders on “bullying” especially on some of my weaker colleagues – very unprofessional and I have to stand up to them on behalf on my colleague.
Similarly and along the same line, this man has a love to visits different sites as then he would be flying in and having a 5-star lifestyles living in hotels and fine dining, courtesy of his organization, mainly to do meetings and visits. And with such high costs for every visits, it is without doubts that he would be putting up reports that will give his organization the impression that he is adding great value to the work he is doing for the organization. Nothing wrong if he had been nailing us on valid quality issues because we are also professional enough and well aware of what is real against false quality issues and not every time that the customer or he is always right. But he is really good in framing any little issues as substantive issues and writing long essay on these as in writing a thesis, a long list of issues kind of reports against any one of us most of the times. It is very easy for him to write so many points, sub-points and next level and so on but very difficult for us to respond and address as a lot of time will then be spent on unproductive hours to research and dig out facts to disprove him as well as spending long hours to write long emails to correspond with his long emails.
It is very obvious that all this works to what he want to achieve and that is to show that he has discovered many “mistakes” put out in a long thesis-like email and there is a response from us meaning that it is legitimate issues. By the way, we cannot just ignore and not replies to him as it will then be misconstrue that we are not interested in the customer’s concern. Either way we are loser.
Well, one day we have a vendor who has been contracted to work on one of this customer’s part. This Vendor is not to start any work till they have a procedure in place whereby through us, we have to send to our customer for their approval before any work can commenced.
I have given specific instructions, also copied in to the customer’s inspector, to this vendor. Somehow the vendor messed it up and commenced the work without approval.
And prior to this, a meeting where this person would visit had been arranged and so the meeting on that day proceeded because he had already fly in to country, even though the cart is already put before the horse, meaning the work has commenced when it is not supposed to before this meeting.
The usual stuffs to expect when meeting with customer’s representatives who are difficult, nitpicking on some small issues and questions after questions to us and the vendors. We have also told him that the work has commenced by the vendor without approval. I was explaining my role and telling him that the vendor had failed us. The Vendor’s manager also explained on why his people had failed and was actually also defending me as I have done my part. We were giving him all the facts as to why the part was worked on by the person on the machine, both myself and the vendor’s manager, it could never be more clearer than day.
Meeting ended and he went back to his comfortable hotel to prepare his report to send to his organization and to my organization, meaning to me as well.
The next morning when I opened my inbox and see his report and truly he lives up to his reputation of writing a long thesis-like report, with so many seemingly quality issues listed below the opening statement and his low approval of our organization expertise and performance.
And unbelievably, his opening statement is that I have given instruction to the vendor to commence work without approval. That was a direct hit on me and putting the whole blame on me for this messed up.
Quick thinking tells me that I cannot respond to him the normal way of replying to email, knowing him, his style of being “difficult”, where he is coming from, his agenda and his self-interests. I would be in for a rough ride if I will to reply him point by point to every point that he has listed. So what if I am right, I would be spending precious productive time to research for and dig out facts, spending time on writing email to disprove or disagree with him. It will then spiral into more email writing to-ing and fro-ing between him and me. I have to write a “strategic” email and play by strategy to get him off my back and not wasting my time to write email to-ing and fro-ing with him.
Think and write strategically
So what is a “strategic” email? I am going to turn the table on him and just focus on one main point – on the point that is very beneficial to my advantage.
In this particular incident, it just happened that he has started his email by putting in his point that I have given the approval while it is not the case. He somehow, I believe by an act of God, that he listened wrongly and so sure that it is the case, he apportioned the whole blame to me. There is a saying that is very true: “For every action there will be an equal reaction.” I saw what an opportunity I had in this opening statement by him for me to turn the table on him.
And knowing how bosses had very little time and interest to read long stories but only the first few lines to gets what is the main point in any email, I dramatize my first line. I replied back to says that he is making a “false accusation” against me, using the strongest possible terms for maximum impact. And I then attached my supporting email to that statement, totally ignored all his other points. That is meant to shock and to show strong indignation in front of his boss and others in the email loop.
Naturally his boss sensed the unfavorable change of circumstances for him and subtly advised him to refrain from continuing through his email to us all but I know that this man has that superior thinking that he can write a hundred times better than most people and will surely reply with even more nasty sneaky attacks on me to show that he is an influential man. He would hopes to cut me down by a few notches through his writing.
And as expected, he takes the time to write another long email to me to defends his action and why he write that opening statement in the earlier email. Best part is he doubles down on his earlier email list of issues and added more issues that he is asking for answers from me.
His opening statement for the second email was to try to explain through story writing on why he ended up writing that email that blamed me and soften my word “accusation” to his “conclusion”.
He does not seems to understand that he is writing to tell everyone that he agrees that he has written and concluded wrongly, a big mistake on his part and no matter how one explained it, it cannot be denied the fact that the person has made a big mistake. He is trying to push his “big” mistake to someone other than himself.
So I helped him to see what his writing means to all of us in the email loop – he is by his own admission admits to concluding something based on hearsay instead of requesting from any one of us the objective evidence to support his conclusion correctly. This is a very serious mistake to be made by a person holding his appointment and in such a senior position.
I then replied with a short email to his long email and refusing to even entertain any of requests as per his long list. My reply to him is a short 3 sentence email.
I just asked him, using his own words, is that how he makes his conclusion as a Quality Representative, concluding a main issue based on hearsay.
Second question to him is that the way he performed his role professionally reference to the first line.
Third sentence is to tell him and everyone that I rests my case.
No more chain emails on this after this reply but he does sent a private one which he did try to apologize as unintentional on his part in blaming me and I just leave it at that. End up I did not have to do any unnecessary work and I still have to accord him a certain amount of respect.
Pointers to remember when writing emails:
From my years of experience of writing corporate emails, these are some of my insights:
• Never reply to any email when you are all hot under the collar. Take a walk or do something else to calm down and stay relaxed before you start typing away at the keyboard.
• Never get personal with any email reply as it will reflect badly on you as being personal rather than being objective. Attacks on issue not on any person.
• Never leaves any emails without replying when the emails has been written to cast doubts on you, on your integrity, your abilities and so on. By not replying, it will leaves doubts in the minds of every one who reads that particular emails and is bad for your stature within your organization. Find the time to sit down and rebuts all the negative points because it is important to clears all negative doubts about you.
• Do not try to prove that you can write well and writing long story is not helpful when writing email. The more you write, the more prone you are to writing something that can be picked up to counter attack back on you.
• Knows the main thrust of any email and the main points so as to address correctly and clearly.
• Picks up the main points and write short, sharp and precise sentence to provide clarity and easy to follow. The first few lines is the most important that most bosses would skim through unless you are someone big.
• Always end by not leaving any points that the other party can picks up and rebuts or place you on the defensive again. Always have the last say in any email conversation.
• Focus on points that are beneficial to you and lead the conversation on points that are to your advantage.
• Understand the style of the other party. Everyone has their weakness. Capitalize on their weakness to your advantage. Example from this incident is this person thinks too highly of his writing superiority to continue even when he should have stopped.
Though we are further down the food chain, it does not necessary means that we are someone’s lunch all the time.
It can be said that it is one of those moment that just makes my day. And following after that incident, my days as in all future encounters with this person were much easier to gets through. Once he spends a whole week to review my whole project documentation and at the end of the review he did not even give me any findings which is very unusual thing for him to do.
I attribute this incident to wisdom from God, His unseen Hand in the situation, together with having good writing skill. It is one of the best moment when those who walks uprightly have nothing to fear from anyone.
Hopefully this is one piece that can be of help to someone who faces lot of emails writing (in big organization) to be better in doing this and have better prospect.
“FOR HIS GLORY FOR HE IS INDEED WORTHY OF ALL PRAISES, GLORY AND HONOR.”