This week I received a frustrating email. It was from a professional organization telling me that my proposal to present a program had been rejected.
Usually such messages carry no emotion for me. As part of doing business, they are as neutral as oatmeal.
But this message did frustrate me: The organization had accepted the same proposal last summer. Since then, its representatives had exchanged several meaty phone calls and long strings of emails with me about choosing a day, time, place, and price for the program. Because the organization had volunteer turnover, I was introduced to a new contact twice, and both times I needed to explain the proposal. Then, this week, an email informed me that the organization's programming was going in a new direction that my proposal did not match.
Aaargh! (I'm not sure of the spelling, but those letters communicate my feelings.)
It was not a bad email. In fact, the email shone with politeness and professionalism. What irked me was the entire time-wasting experience.
Do you sometimes receive emails whose news exasperates you?
I had to reply because the message needed acknowledgment. And I wanted to express my frustration about having my time wasted for months.
But I decided to follow the advice I give business writing students all the time: I thought about my purpose in writing.
Was my purpose to lash out at the person who sent the email? No, that would be silly and immature. Besides, it was a well-written message.
Was my purpose to express my frustration? No, what good would that do?
Was my purpose to acknowledge the message? Yes.
Was my purpose to present myself as a professional? Yes.
Here's what I wrote, disguised slightly:
Thanks for your message. I regret not being able to present, especially since I received enthusiastic approvals of the program from the association last year. But if the program doesn’t match current programming, I agree that dropping it makes sense.
Best wishes for your continued success,
You can see that I left out my frustration and touched only slightly on my disappointment.
One of my friends doesn't see the benefit of leaving out the negative stuff. She would say, "If you feel that they treated you badly, why not tell them so? Don't they need to hear it?" But I always go back to the question, What is my purpose? If I want to complain, I can yell at my computer.
Do you think I communicated appropriately? What would you have done? How do you handle irritating news that arrives in your email inbox? Feel free to rant here–as long as you do it politely and professionally. (Smile.)
For tips on relationship-building writing, get my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time.