Summer is upon us now, dear reader. With hot weather comes more relaxed interactions—and sometimes, hotter tempers. So as a gentle reminder, please bear in mind: you can’t take back something you say in haste, especially on the internet. Before you hit “send,” or “post,” or “publish,” take a moment to rethink your words from the reader’s standpoint. If the words you are writing were said about you, would you be pleased? Or embarrassed? Or angry?
It costs nothing to be polite, even when you are disagreeing with or criticizing someone. Here are some general rules I think can always smooth out your virtual communications (even the less complimentary ones):
- “If you have a compliment for me, tell your friends. If you have criticism, tell me first!” This applies to clients and colleagues alike. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should have the opportunity to privately correct them before taking the matter to the public. Before writing something negative for the whole world to see, send a private note or make a private phone call. And share those compliments with everyone!
- Begin and end emails as if they were formal letters. Dear X, blahblahblah, Sincerely, Y. This sets the tone as a professional correspondence, rather than something hastily blasted out after an afternoon cocktail. (Side note: I like “kind regards” better than “sincerely,” but only for people who initiate contact or with whom I’ve already exchanged some communication.)
- Use complete sentences with professional-grade vocabulary.
- Acknowledge that your opinion comes from your personal perspective. “I noticed a few errors on page 3,” and never “You made a lot of mistakes.”
- For delicate subjects, use the sandwich method. Slip your criticism/disapproval/rejection between a friendly hello and a compliment. It helps take the sting out of the thing.
How do you tweak emails and forum posts to tone down strong feelings?