"You can't be serious."

My team leader had just sent a text message, looking for an update on a task he had delegated: I was supposed to set up a team-building activity for our team's monthly meeting.

Only problem was it had been a super busy month, and I hadn't done it yet. I still had a couple of weeks to get it ready, but he wanted to know where we stood. He also wanted to share some suggestions.

This triggered me. I know it shouldn't have; it was a simple request. But because I'd hoped to be further along, I got worked up. 

Why is he getting on me for this now? And why so many added suggestions--I thought he had delegated this to me. Can't he just let me handle it?

The message actually came in the evening, and I didn't feel like dealing with it. So, I didn't respond until the next day.

I started drafting my response:

Hey Steve, sorry for the delayed reply. I've had a lot going on and have been feeling a bit overwhelmed. I haven't had time to do much planning with the team-building activity because I've been so involved in this project ...

I paused for a moment.

Wait--what was I thinking?

I imagined what Steve might think reading this. Maybe that I was the wrong person for the job. That maybe I couldn't handle my current workload. 

But here's the thing: I could handle it. 

Organizing this team-building activity was something I'd been looking forward to--that's why I was so enthusiastic about it from the get-go. And I had ideas, I just hadn't been able to implement them yet. 

It had simply been a rough couple of weeks--which I had now managed to get through and put behind me.

I needed to rewrite this message, following a simple rule of emotional intelligence: 

Writing in reverse.

Writing in reverse

Writing in reverse is simple: You have to reverse the roles of the writer (you) with the recipient (your audience). 

In an age when written communication like email, Slack, and text messaging rules, writing in reverse is extremely helpful--because it keeps you from:

  • writing purely from an emotional perspective,
  • writing too much, or
  • writing what is not helpful to the recipient.

Writing in reverse is emotionally intelligent--because it helps you develop your empathy muscle. In addition, it keeps you from letting emotions dictate your message, as was the case in my situation. But by taking a pause, I was able to calm down first, so I could give a more balanced reply--one that wouldn't actually make the situation worse. 

So, the next time you receive a message and are tempted to respond emotionally, write in reverse--by doing the following:

1. If you're writing a reply, first acknowledge the initial message. Then, wait. If you're writing in response to another message, acknowledge receipt of the original message but let the sender know you can't reply immediately. That puts them at ease, so they don't keep wondering whether you've seen the message or not.

Then, it's great if you can wait at least a couple of hours before responding. And it's even better if you can wait 24 hours.

2. Write your message and save it as a draft. Your first draft is likely to be based primarily on emotion. But giving yourself the opportunity to write it will help you to "vent." 

3. Let some time pass; then, review and revise your draft. Give yourself as much time as needed to allow your emotions to come back into balance. 

Keeping your recipient in mind, ask yourself: 

  • Am I writing too much? 
  • Is the message confusing? Will it raise more questions than it will answer?
  • Is there anything that could be misinterpreted, or that sounds angry, desperate, or emotional?
  • Is there anything unnecessary I can remove from this message?
  • Would it be better to communicate this by phone (or in person)?

Try to keep things as brief yet clear as possible.

Once you've gotten enough practice, you'll do these steps naturally, save yourself time and grief, and write messages that your recipients find helpful.

If you're curious, here's how I rewrote my own message: 

Hey Steve, thanks for your message. Can't reply this second, but I will get back to you asap ...

Hey again, thanks again for your message yesterday. Yes, I have some ideas on this and am moving forward. Would love to hear your suggestions--please send them over and then we can discuss. We can also do a call if you like.

Steve's response:

Sounds good! Here they are--look forward to discussing!

When you learn how to write in reverse, you'll give your audience exactly what they need, while getting what you need from them: freedom, confidence, and peace of mind.

(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free soon-to-be-launched emotional intelligence course, where I share a similar rule every week that will help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)