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When I’m caught driving in rush hour traffic, I’m often behind a car that speeds up, then slams on the brakes, then speeds up, then slams on the brakes.... You get the picture, and you may relate to the stress and frustration that can cause me. My technique to deal with that particular pattern is to follow that car slowly at a distance, applying my brakes only when absolutely necessary. Because if MY brake lights aren’t flashing, at least the cars behind me aren’t going to get stuck in that accelerate/brake pattern of frustration. Plus, it helps my nerves not to be frustrated the whole way home.

An onslaught of email and other forms of electronic communication can feel like a traffic jam, too. Does the number of unread emails in the inbox above make your heart race?

I consult in a work setting where emails arrive every day from people I don’t know. And some of those emails cause me stress. My technique to manage email stress is to think about the other metaphorical drivers on the road. I do my best to send clear, concise emails. And when I'm stressed out about an email conversation, I draft a message but don’t send it till the next morning after I’ve re-read it, so at least I don’t pass the frustration along the chain. Making it easy for them ends up making it easy for me, too. 

I didn’t know any of this when I started out in the world of communicating. I had to learn it along the way, by noticing what irked me, what got the best responses, what made me feel good when it landed in my inbox. I definitely made some errors along the way—mainly small ones, but still memorable to me (it’s generally frowned upon to address someone named Bill with “Hi, Bob!”).

I’m not an expert at this by any means, and I’m definitely an imperfect person. But I do my best to pay attention to small details like:

  • including a greeting before jumping into the questions and details
  • separating thoughts out with line breaks and short paragraphs
  • spelling everyone’s name right (copying and pasting is the BEST way to do this)
  • being very clear about times, dates, and exactly what I’m asking for

Basically, if you want something from someone, make it really really easy for them to give it to you. This is true in most things, actually. But email is a good example of working with the concept “how you do anything is how you do everything.” How do you want to be perceived in life, in business, in your communications?