Useless Feedback

English: Angry cat
English: Angry cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An email ruined my weekend.

(And I’m still mad.)

It was an email filled with extraordinarily useless feedback, including completely false accusations. The person who sent it was so unaware of her own behavior and self-blindness that I’m still bewildered, puzzled, and confused.

My gut response, of course, was to reply with an email that would set her straight! It would point out that SHE was the problem – not me. That I had no fewer than five examples of other people who had experienced insult at her hands. I wanted to make sure that she never – ever – falsely accused me of things that were HER FAULT again.

A far smarter (and less pissed) person  stopped me before I could send this email. This email that would have been filled with feedback just as vitriolic and useless as the email that ruined my weekend.

I’ve decided (based on the advice of this wise person) to wait until I calm down and to respond later to the false accusations. What I did on Saturday was to ignore the email and re-ask the simple question that I asked in the first place. Why? I have to get this project done! Her response, as insulting, juvenile, and horrifying as it might be, is completely immaterial to the project itself.

And now, as usual, I find myself introspective. I wonder how many times I write my own judgement into email exchanges where it will be completely useless, distracting, and unproductive.

In order to not be as much of a PITA as this woman was this weekend, I’ve decided to ask myself the following questions before shooting my mouth off at someone:

  1. Am I just pissed? Do I simply want to make the other person pay? If so, I need to put down the computer and hit the punching bag instead. My words can be really brutal, and I need to be careful about how I use them. If I’m not pissed and will move forward, I can go on to the rest of these questions.
  2. Am I writing an insult? I might think that the other person is being cold and emotionless in her email, but calling ANYONE that is an insult, no matter what. Maybe I think she’s being overly emotional, but actually telling her that will either exacerbate her emotions or just piss her off.
  3. What result do I need? This question was the brilliant one that my friend asked me this weekend. I WANTED to tell this person where to get off. I NEEDED to push the project forward. The interesting thing is that answering this question was what caused me to fork my actions – get the project done first, and deal with her problematic communication style later (after the holidays and after I calm down).
  4. Is my feedback useful? If she can’t take action on what I’m writing, why am I writing it? If she asked me for an example and all I did was restate what I wanted (without giving an example), I gave her useless feedback. Am I using too many sentences? Is what I need from her clear?
  5. Am I being truthful? Am I accusing her of something that’s actually my own fault? Am I telling her that she’s the troublemaker when I know that I’ve had arguments with three other people on the team similar to the one we’re having now? Am I accusing her of something that’s just untrue? Maybe I’m pissed and I’m trying to pull in something bigger so that she understands her actions better. I’m probably better off not doing that – all I’ll do is offend her and make things worse.
  6. How does she think? At my day job, I work with a couple of guys who are my exact Myers-Briggs type. This means that I can communicate with them in my own language, as it were. I can explain my motivations for doing something, and they’ll have similar motivations – my reasons will just make sense. This is NOT the case with this weekend’s offender. In order to get her to change her communication style such that her emails no longer ruin my weekend, I need to understand her better. I need to understand what kind of motivation SHE needs to change her behavior.
  7. Do I just want to hurt her back? Am I just looking for my pound of flesh? Do I just want to hurt her like she hurt me? Yes, this is the same question as #1, but when I’m mad, I need to stop and think more than once, so I put this in here again.

Eventually, I won’t be angry any more (usually my anger lasts less than an hour – this was a horrifying email!). If I’d sent the vitriol-filled hateful email, I’d eventually feel bad about it. I’d also possibly have damaged a relationship that I want to last a long time. As satisfying as it would have been to rip her a new <expletive deleted>, that would only have been momentary satisfaction. I’m really glad that someone talked me off of that ledge, and I have a feeling I should bookmark this post for the future!

3 thoughts on “Useless Feedback

  1. Nice post Jenn. When I encounter a similar situation, I use something I call the “sanity check”. I write the vitriolic email that I was planning to write – I feel better already – then I change the subject line to sanity check and send it off to one of small circle of sanity-advisors. I keep the email as was except I add the following to the head of the email – something like “let me know if you think I should send this”
    It always works and I always end up either not sending or toning it way down.

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