Trying to Stop Being an Email Asshole

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There are many days when I feel like email is my job rather than a tool that helps me to do my job. It’s what I check the moment I wake up and the activity that sucks a good chunk of my time each day. I’ve been good about keeping “inbox zero” and reducing subscriptions (I use unroll.me), but I’m eager to read the latest messages and figure a way to reply as quickly as possible.

Because I treat email with such urgency and importance in my work, it’s become a very big source of stress and tension. Add to that the fact that I’m a manager who relies heavily on email for information, status updates, and confirmation, and it’s easy to imagine how I end up putting so much weight into every message I read and write.

To show you how bad it’s been, here’s a scenario that’s boiled my blood over and over again over the years: I email an employee and ask for an update on something I’ve assigned. This email usually comes at an odd hour, either really late at night or very early in the morning. The employee does not reply the next day. When I recall that I had sent a message but no response has been received in more than 20 hours, I feel disappointed. My first assumption is that the employee has forgotten about the email. I then wonder why the employee didn’t just respond immediately after reading the email. The reply would’ve been a simple one-line answer. By this time, I might fire a reminder follow-up email, but if I don’t, then I can find myself starting to stew. It’s not a good feeling, and sometimes I assume very negative things.

When I think about why I feel the way I do with emails addressed to employees, I realize something: I feel entitled to a quick response from those who work for me. It’s a power dynamic that I’ve come to expect as the norm, and if the conditions aren’t met, it upsets me. If I think about my email interactions with clients, there’s no such expectation. I’m hardly upset if they don’t reply back for a week. There are definitely client emails out of the blue that may cause stress, but these I quickly forget since I don’t see our clients in person everyday.

There’s something to be said about employees who are prompt, efficient, and responsive in their use of email. I appreciate it when people respond right away and give me quick and to-the-point answers. I often give mental props to those who respond to my emails at odd hours. But I’ve come to think more and more that it’s unhealthy and unproductive to be upset about delayed or forgotten responses. I need to approach email communication from a default mode of trust rather than entitlement. If someone hasn’t answered me right away, I need to trust that the person had good reason not to or may simply have forgotten with no ill intentions. This may sound really obvious, but for someone who’s had issues with micro-managing people, I need to constantly make myself more aware and stay away from bad habits. Basically, I just need to let go and stop being such an asshole when it comes to email.

Sometimes the best way to learn is to turn the mirror on myself and examine with brutal honesty. I can recall times when someone has poured hours into an email addressed directly to me only to never get a written response. I know for a fact that I forget to respond to emails at least once or twice a day. And I’ve been guilty of reading only bits and pieces of emails, too lazy to read everything a person has written. And yet, I’ve never felt bad about these things and instead, I’ll implore people to “keep bothering me” or “be more aggressive” in getting my attention. I’ve always told myself that entitlement is something I really dislike, especially when I see it in other people. It’s high time I adjusted my behavior and realize that I can be more than the grumpy guy slouched over his keyboard reading and writing emails.

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