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Emotionally Intelligent Emailing

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

These days, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a scathing email, as well as its mysterious, vaguely pejorative cousins. You know the messages to which I refer. They don’t need exclamation points or all caps to teem with anger and drip with sarcasm. Dressing someone down via email is tempting because it’s easy—you have plenty of time to dream up daggers that strike straight to the heart, and you lack the inhibition that is present when the receiving party is staring you in the face. This type of email is known in cyberspace as “flaming,” and all such messages have a single thing in common—a complete and utter lack of emotional intelligence.

A recent survey (sponsored by communications device manufacturer Plantronics) reveals that 83% of today’s workforce considers email to be “critical” to their success and productivity. That’s more than the phone (81%), audio conferencing (61%), instant messaging (38%), or social media (19%). That’s probably because 90% of the workers surveyed reported that they regularly perform work outside of the office—whether in different company locations, client sites, off-site meetings, or when working remotely from home.

Since its inception, the role of online communication in how we interact with other people has been expanding —with no sign of slowing down. Email has been around long enough that you’d think that by now we’d all be pros at using it to communicate effectively. But we’re human and—if you think about it—we haven’t mastered face- to-face communication either. In fact, we’re hard-wired to struggle when it comes to keeping our emotions from obscuring our intentions (and sometimes derailing our progress in achieving our goals).

The bottom line is that we could all use a little help. The five strategies that follow are proven methods for keeping your emotions within reason, so that you don’t hit “send” while your emails, tweets, comments, and virtual chime- ins are still flaming.

1. Honest Abe’s First Rule of Netiquette.

I know what you’re thinking: How could someone who died more than a century before the Internet existed teach us about email etiquette? Well, in Lincoln’s younger years, he had a bad habit of applying his legendary wit when writing insulting letters to, and about, his political rivals. But after one particularly scathing letter led a rival to challenge Lincoln to a duel, Lincoln learned a valuable lesson—words impact the receiver in ways that the sender cannot completely fathom. By the time he died, Lincoln had amassed stacks of flaming letters that verbally shredded his rivals and subordinates for their bone- headed mistakes. However, the important thing is that Lincoln never sent them. He vented his frustration on paper, and then stuffed that sheet away in a drawer. The following day, the full intensity of his emotions having subsided, Lincoln wrote and sent a much more congenial and conciliatory letter. We can all benefit from learning to do the same with email. Your emotions are a valid representation of how you feel—no matter how intense— but that doesn’t mean that acting on them in the moment serves you well. Go ahead and vent—tap out your anger and frustration on the keyboard. Save the draft and come back to it later when you’ve cooled down. By then you’ll be rational enough to edit the message and pare down the parts that burn, or—even better—rewrite the kind of message that you want to be remembered by.

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