QI think I have a case of e-mail rage. Between the messages' irrelevance, sloppiness and volume, I can hardly see the value of the useful ones. Help!
ABelieve it or not, you can control the madness and get your inbox under control. You might even be able to influence some of the quality.
The inner game
First of all, just calm down. Think about it objectively -- you are being enraged by a list of electronic lines on an electronic device. You can control this by controlling your reaction. Take some deep breaths, detach from your annoyance, and look for the humor in the situation.
But not so fast ... what if rage is your default reaction to minor life frustrations? Do lines in stores or traffic jams make you crazy? Clutter drive you over the edge? In that case, you may want to take a more general look at your coping skills.
Anyway, back to e-mail. This isn't life or death, it's a simple prioritization and management question, so once you're all calm, do an assessment.
•Looking at the volume, take note of the sources.
•Define what you mean by "irrelevance." Are these e-mails important to someone else, but you're just cc'ed?
•Be specific about the quality issue. What types of errors are you noticing, and are they within your sphere of influence?
•Finally, look at your e-mail behavior, just to be sure that you're not as big an offender as those around you.
The outer game
Now it's time to take action. E-mail volume creeps up as you sign up for newsletters or accidentally "opt in" when you're doing something else online. Go through them and unsubscribe. It may take a little bit of time to get done, but the relief will be worth the effort.
Reducing irrelevant e-mails will require a culture shift. Your team may feel that they need to keep you in the loop on a fairly high level of detail. You may have taught them to do that, so be sure that you'll really be comfortable if you are less in the know.
If you are, then let them know that you trust them to keep you in the loop when needed, and leave you out when you're not. When they still include you, patiently drop them a note to leave you off the next time.
When you get caught in an awkward moment because you don't have a particular detail, don't blame your team member, just follow up with the info. Otherwise, you'll be buried in CYA e-mails forever.
Quality improvement is a development issue when it's within your group. Offer some training. Remind people to slow down and reread before they hit send. Send e-mails back with corrections so that they know it really matters to you.
If the sloppy e-mails are coming from outside your group, take a couple of deep breaths and let it go, or escalate it in a general way to your peers: "It creates a bad impression of our company; here's what I've done on my team."
The last word
You can help improve the quality of communication, even as you reduce your e-mail-induced stress.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.