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How to Write That Email You've Been Avoiding


Email is about relationships — even our work emails. Especially our work emails.

We either have an existing relationship with the recipient or are starting a new one when we click send.

Email may be the primary (or only) communication channel we use with the other person or it may be one of several channels we employ.

When you notice you are procrastinating on writing an email, take a few moments to check in with yourself.

Underlying Factors

What might be the issue bothering your subconscious?

Common examples include:

  • embarrassment at having to admit you are wrong about something and/or having to take responsibility for a mistake,
  • anxiety about how the other person will react (e.g., anger, passive aggression, gossip),
  • uncertainty regarding reputation effects (e.g., how the other person’s perceptions of you will be reinforced or change because of the content of the email),
  • concern about being misinterpreted or misunderstood,
  • dislike of having to be the “bad guy”,
  • fear of not fitting in (e.g., voice an unpopular opinion, being in the minority),
  • or the discomfort of disappointing someone or hurting their feelings.

Notice how each has an element of connection or separation to it. When you look at it from a relationship standpoint it’s no wonder you’ve been procrastinating. Your work relationships are incredibly important so your subconscious has been stalling you from sending the email until you take the time to acknowledge the underlying issue.

Why Email?

Another clue can come from you decision to email the person as opposed to calling them or speaking with them face to face. It’s important is that you check in with yourself to see if the choice to email is conscious and appropriate for the situation or if you are using email to avoid a real-time interaction.

There are legitimate logistical reasons to use email as the communication channel.

  • If your schedules rarely line up for a phone call and most in person contact is happenstance then email is likely your most efficient medium.

  • The nature of the business may also dictate that email, as a written record, is most appropriate.

  • Email is helpful when you need to communicate the same information to several individuals at the same time.

But we often use email to avoid a real-time encounter. Perhaps you don’t want to interact with the individual because of their potential reaction or because you are feeling emotional and want to remain composed.

Prepare Your Mindset

If after uncovering any subconscious reasons for procrastinating you are still having difficulty composing or sending the email, take a few minutes to generate at least five things you have in common with the recipient. For example you both: have strong personalities, want the project to succeed, drink tea as opposed to coffee, have a lengthy commute, and have to travel for work quite frequently. This helps you to become more receptive to connecting with the person.

In addition to cultivating a connected mindset, take a moment to pause to remember that you can’t control other people’s reactions but you can control your own response and actions. Regardless of outcome, you can choose to feel good that you approached the situation mindfully, not from habit or emotion. This helps you to be less attached to the response you’ll eventually receive.

Get Support

If you are still having trouble, you may wish to reach out to a manager or peer for some feedback on approaching the email. Explain that because you want to preserve (or establish) a relationship, you want a second perspective. Convey that your goal is to communicate [X] in a way that feels [Y] to the recipient. For example:

  • I want to let the person know how their error caused negative consequences for my team that must be addressed, but in a way that doesn’t seem punitive.
  • I have to tell the client I can’t fulfill their request when previously I said I could and I want them to know I understand their frustration.
  • I want to (re)open the lines of communication after a misunderstanding but I’m feeling anxious.

The next time you find yourself procrastinating on an email, take it as a sign to consciously pause to reflect on your relationship with the person, with the issue, and with yourself.

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