We've all got one (or several) things that really grate us at work. For Jocelyn K. Glei, the founding editor and director of creative community 99U, it's email anxiety. In her just-released book Unsubscribe, she explores how to manage this anxiety and be more productive despite our expanding inboxes.

In exploring the most productive emailing practices, Glei has become an email pro. In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, she even dips her toes into explaining a bit of the psychology of email. Even if you feel you've sent a positive email, the recipient often reads it at neutral. If you think you've sent a neutral email, the recipient is more likely to read it as negative.

This presents a problem because we often need write emails that deliver negative feedback. If done right, you can still do so constructively and effectively. Here are a few of Glei's tips to delivering feedback via email so that it's received in the most neutral way possible.

Start with a warm-up

Getting straight to the point can feel abrupt and mean. Before you deliver the feedback, start with something nice. Even if the person's work on the receiving end left something (or a lot) to be desired, try your very hardest to start with a compliment or a few simple words of gratitude.

Remember you don't have the same benefits of face-to-face interactions, such as a kind gentle tone or reassuring smile. So to make up for it, you can simply begin by saying thank you. Or, find something else positive to say that will make the person feel appreciated.

Offer the solution, not the problem

Now it's time to get to the point. When's the last time you enjoyed reading a long-winded wishy washy email? Probably never.

An important part of giving feedback is to help the person understand how to fix it. The more concise, the better. Instead of waxing poetic about how the report they prepared is littered with typos and needs a lot of work, give them action steps to improving it. For example, ask them to take a second look at the report, keeping an eye out for typos and grammatical errors.

Ask nicely

Yes, you want to be clear and direct. But you don't want to sound like a drill sergeant. That could rub the recipient the wrong way. Glei suggests you phrase your ask in the conditional, as in Would you mind doing...? Or Could you explore...?

For example, instead of, "Before we send to corporate, you need to review the entire report and make sure it's clear of grammatical errors," something more like, "Before we send to corporate, could you revisit the report to catch any grammatical errors?" Both ask the person to do the same thing, but one will likely be more effective.

Read the rest of Glei's tips to effectively deliver negative feedback via email in Harvard Business Review.

Published on: Oct 7, 2016
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