The Growing Importance of a Calm Response

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A short while ago, I came up with a great idea for one of my clients, and emailed off my implementation plans.

The reply I received was a very short email. “No.”

My heart sank. An explosion of thoughts ran through my head, such as:

  • What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks?
  • Was my idea so obviously awful that it didn’t even warrant an explanation as to why it was rejected?
  • Why was this idea rejected? Have I completely misunderstood my clients’ goals?
  • How can I continue to work with this client if this idea (which I thought was a home run) isn’t what they want?
  • How many other things have I suggested that the client secretly thought were awful ideas?
  • Maybe me and this client aren’t going to work out.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t be in this line of work. I clearly have no idea what’s going on.

Yup. All of those thoughts and a dozen more popped up in a millisecond. And yeah, some of these thoughts were pretty big ones.

I took a deep breath. And I sent a calm reply. Asking if I could have more details about why the idea wouldn’t work, so I could know whether I should revise my proposal or abandon the idea entirely.

You’ll never believe the reply I got.

“Oops. Autocorrect. I meant ‘ok’. It’s a great idea.”

[insert biggest sigh of relief ever.]

Can you imagine how awkward the situation would have been if I had replied hastily? Or with an accusatory tone? Or a sarcastic one? Or decided to change my line of work over this one [not even really an] incident?

I shudder to think of what would have happened if my impulsive, teenager-self had replied. (Have I told you that when I was 17, I made a [in hindsight, trivial] mistake and was so embarrassed that I quit so that I wouldn’t have to see my boss again?)

We’re exchanging information faster than we ever have before. Texts typed on tiny phones at a red light. Hasty emails sent in the minute before the next appointment. This connectivity is great, but the speed that we’re firing off replies also leaves us prone to mistakes.

Last year, I taught a Craft Industry Alliance webinar on Overcoming Customer Service Challenges, with an emphasis on replying to difficult customers in a deescalating manner (the recorded webinar is free to CIA members). My recent interaction reminded me how important it is to approach every email in a calm fashion and to give the sender the benefit of the doubt. And my bet is that interacting over email in a professional way is only going to become a more valuable business skill.

If you’re not currently a CIA member, I encourage you to sign up. And not because this is a referral link. But because it’s a site full of amazing content and forums where I’ve made really good industry connections.