From “hero” to “traitor” in one e-mail

The practice of e-mail blind copying hails a professional’s credibility to the abyss of mistrust in very little time and with no easy way of climbing back

Adil Sharma is a team leader in an international outsourcing company. While Adil is recognised across the organisation as a professional with credible technical knowledge and an amiable temperament, his colleagues and direct reports exercise a great deal of caution while interacting with him.  Despite his soft-spoken personality and cordial disposition, many in his team do not consider Adil as a trustworthy colleague.  While Adil puts a great deal of effort to interact and spend time with his colleagues and direct reports, he is often picked up as the subject of ridicule and lunch-hour gossip.

While Adil is aware of this fact, he is clueless about what has led him to a position where he no longer enjoys the trust of his colleagues. A closer look at Adil’s working style reveals a striking fact about his official communication preferences. Adil is in the habit of blind copying (Bcc) an individual’s manager in his e-mail interactions. While Adil considers Bcc-ing an individual’s manager as a way of keeping him/her informed about events and developments, his colleagues and direct reports consider it as a breach of trust. While meant as a mechanism to hide the identity of people copied on a particular message, there were instances in the past, where the individual’s manager inadvertently hit a “Reply All” while responding to Adil. On other occasions, Adil’s act of Bcc-ing was revealed over casual discussions between an individual and his/her trusted manager. Both situations have left Adil red-faced on many occasions.

Roee Adler, Chief Product Officer, at the IT solutions company, Soluto, shares an experience with a boss in his previous professional stint in an article. “One of the first things my boss advised me against,” reveals Adler “was to Bcc someone in all forms of e-mail communications— professional or personal.” Adler continues that his boss reasoned his advice with the following words, “When someone sends you an e-mail where you are Bcc-ed, your brain tags that person as someone who Bcc-s people in e-mails. So next time he sends you an email where you’re NOT Bcc-ed, your brain will wonder whether he Bcc-ed anyone on this email that he doesn’t want you to know about. As a consequence, your brain will automatically tag this person as someone who may have something to hide, and you’ll develop a concern for the level of honesty and transparency of that person. With time, you may grow not to trust him.” Adler reveals that he has not Bcc-ed anyone ever since.

The career advisory and training company, Onlinecareertips.com, published an article arguing why Bcc-ing is never a good idea. The article reveals that while a professional may use the Bcc function to trap a colleague or service provider, one may often overlook the risk of the Bcc-ed recipient reaching out to the colleague or service provider individually. On such occasions, the professional loses credibility and such setbacks are difficult to bounce back from as they are tied by perceptions.

Experts, however, believe that there are two situations where an individual can Bcc recipients without losing credibility.

Interactions with direct and indirect stakeholders:  There are instances when both internal and external stakeholders of a project with rigid communication channel protocols may need to be provided with developments and updates. It is acceptable to Bcc all such stakeholders of the project to maintain confidentiality of personal details.

Mass mailing: Communication experts reveal that a person tends to ignore or postpone reading e-mails that are not personalised. A recipient of an e-mail considers an e-mail as non-personalised if s/he receives an e-mail that explicitly displays a large recipient list. While there are no gold-standards available, communication experts believe that if the number of recipients exceed 30, it may be a good idea to include the recipients in the Bcc field, rather than the “To” field.

While the instances are limited, the practice of Bcc-ing is more widespread in the modern-day professional world than meets the eye.  The practice leads colleagues to lose faith in an individual and creates an environment of mistrust. As many believe, Bcc-ing is a sure-fire way of falling from the ladder of trust to an abyss of mistrust in no time.

How likely are you to overrate or underrate yourself while appraising yourself?

1. How do you tend to base your opinions while rating yourself?

A. I lay greater emphasis in conforming to my personal expectations
B. I lay greater emphasis in understanding what my boss and peers expect out of me
C. I aim to identify the gaps between my personal expectations and other’s expectations from me

2. What successes do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Recent successes, or big wins in the past 1-2 months
B. Successes across the span of my professional career
C. Successes across the last 12 months

3. Which setbacks do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Setbacks across the span of my professional career
B. Recent setbacks, or failures in the last 1-2 months
C. Setbacks across the last 12 months

4. How would you rate your skills and competencies?

A. I have skills and competencies that are niche and difficult to acquire commonly
B. I have skills and competencies that others can easily acquire
C. I have skills and competencies that others can acquire with effort and experience

5. How would you rate skills and competencies of your peers and superiors?

A. I can easily acquire the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors
B. My peers and managers have skills and competencies that are extremely difficult to acquire
C. With effort and experience, I can acquire some of the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors

6. How would you rate your cognitive intelligence (grammatical skills, logical reasoning, and humor)?

A. I possess greater cognitive intelligence than my peers and superiors
B. My peers and superiors have greater cognitive intelligence compared to mine
C. My cognitive intelligence is dependent on my experience and exposure to key areas of my occupation

7. How would rate the quality of your education and past experience?

A. My education and past experience is superior to my peers and managers
B. My peers and superiors have worked and studied in larger and more renowned establishments
C. I work for an organization where most others have similar education and past experience

8. How would you rate the social stature of your family?

A. My family is more prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
B. My family is less prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
C. I work for an organization where most others come from a families with a social stature similar to mine

9. How do you feel about the development gaps in your last review?

A. I strongly feel that I have bridged all development gaps that reflected in my last review
B. I feel that some development gaps still remain
C. My manager and peers are on the same page as I am about my development gaps

10. How do you feel about the work that your team and your organization does?

A. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are rather mediocre
B. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, have always been the best-in-class
C. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are at par with the rest of the market

More As indicate the likelihood of over-rating yourself
More Bs indicate the likelihood of under-rating yourself
More Cs indicate the likelihood of a balanced review

Boston Bombings: Do you really care? Or are you merely paying lip service?

Organisational events can provide great insights to managers about how team members are engaged or disengaged

“Friends in Boston, be safe” read a status message on my Facebook newsfeed this morning. There was a downpour of status messages, twitter hash tags, and official statements released on social media in the last 24 hours expressing solidarity, and condemning the terrorist attacks in Boston. What strikes most to social media lurkers like me is the demographic distribution of people and entities who have posted solidarity messages on social media. A closer analysis of my newsfeeds after the Boston bombings reveals three distinct sets of social media citizens— the deeply concerned, the pretentious opportunist, and the openly unconcerned.

In many ways, this is how organisational employees behave whenever an organisational event occurs. Many react favourably or disprove of an organisational event such as a merger announcement, compensation changes, or senior leadership movements.  Needless to say, the perceptions about an individual are greatly driven by the reactions and behaviours that s/he projects to the world either intentionally or unintentionally. Here are the characteristics of the three organisational stereotypes and the consequent perceptions that the individual portrays. While not definitive measure, these behaviours may provide some predictive indicators about an employee’s commitment and engagement within an organisation.

Behavioural scientists recommend that managers should look out for some suggestive indicators in an employee’s behaviours whenever any disruptive organisational event happens.

The deeply concerned

The deeply concerned are the people who are truly and deeply affected by an organisational event either because it directly affects their everyday existence or out of genuine empathy toward the development.  On social media, some of the most emphatic messages on social media post the Boston bombings were from people who had friends or relatives, or who were emotionally affected by the loss of life.

While an individual may raise a vocal objection or word out eloquent praises about an organisational event, it would be wrong for a manager to brand an individual disengaged or engaged based on that.  The deeply concerned is one who understands and recognises the impact of the event in his everyday life and is prepared to take charge of how to deal with it. Rather than brand the deeply concerned as engaged or disengaged, it is important for the manager to identify if there are any concern areas and solicit the individual’s inputs to address them. The deeply concerned are perhaps the best resources to see an organisational change through to its logical and successful completion.

The pretentious opportunist

The pretentious opportunist is one who does not get affected by an event, but tries to portray an image of grave concern to friends and colleagues.  More often than not, it is likely that the pretentious opportunist is deeply disengaged but is trying to mask it with an external image that s/he is trying to portray.  The pretentious opportunist may also show concerned optimism/pessimism to portray an image of being “cool, likeable, and popular.”  A manager has to watch out for the pretentious opportunist as it is difficult to understand how the individual affects the morale of others in the team.

The unconcerned

A manager might easily misunderstand the unconcerned as the disengaged. The unconcerned simply can be an individual who has not been affected directly or indirectly by an event, and hence has chosen to maintain honest silence over insincere expression.  In an attempt to avoid portrayal as an unconcerned citizen, a few unconcerned ones might even have the tendency to migrate to the territory of the pretentious opportunist.  It is, therefore, important for the manager to avoid subconsciously labelling the unconcerned as disengaged.

While they may trigger varied reactions, a disruptive organisational event presents managers with the opportunity to truly understand the level of engagement in their teams.

Avoid that blinking light

A day at work can quickly become overwhelming unless one finds a way to balance the conflicting priorities of e-mail and the daily work agenda

Here is how Manasi’s typical workday looks like.

7:00am- Manasi wakes up and finds a red light blinking on her Blackberry. She checks her new e-mail and then gets ready for work.

8:15am- Manasi gets to work and opens her laptop. The first application she opens after her computer boots is Microsoft Outlook. She spends the next half hour skimming through the 100 odd e-mails she has received in the last 12 hours.

8:45am- Manasi gets into a meeting. Her Blackberry, meanwhile, continues to blink every now and then beckoning her to respond.

6:00pm- Manasi gets through the day clicking and responding to e-mails every time there is a little pop-up at the bottom right corner of her computer screen.

6:30pm- Manasi is home but continues to read, delete, or respond to her emails every time her Blackberry blinks.

10:30pm- Manasi is about to call it a day, when she realizes that she has missed sending her most important project of the day!!!

Every one of us experiences a similar day once a while. Most of us react to the little pop-up and the blinking red light the way Manasi does. Checking e-mails incessantly has become a part of our professional DNA.  While one cannot undermine the central role that e-mail plays in conducting our daily business, research indicates that bad e-mail hygiene can quickly become the singular reason for heartburns and stress. Literature suggests that apart from causing annoyance to colleagues and managers, excessive e-mailing may create an environment of politics and mistrust stifling productivity and efficiency within an organization.

Following are five hygiene factors one must exercise to become more efficient with e-mails and avoid losing focus on daily priorities.

Do not check e-mail the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night

Empirical evidence proves that it helps for a professional to come in a little early, and get things in order before starting off the work day. Checking e-mails the first thing in the morning, shifts focus away from the “important” to the “urgent.” Similarly checking e-mails the last thing in the night pulls forward stress from the next day. Prolonged stress is the single biggest reason for burnout and fatigue.

Do not plan meetings over e-mail

Meeting planning on e-mail starts with a harmless e-mail soliciting responses from colleagues for a time and date. After all schedules are mapped, a mutually agreeable time is decided. This is followed by a meeting planner that colleagues accept. Before you know, this process led to half an hour of your time and 20 fresh e-mails. What happened to the good old way of walking up to a colleague and asking for time?

Batch check e-mails at scheduled intervals

Experts suggest that e-mail creates a sense of “manufactured emergencies” that conflict with broad priorities. Rather than incessantly checking e-mails, stress psychologists suggest that one should make a practice of checking e-mails in batches. Such a practice leads to lesser distractions and helps one focus on the important rather than the urgent. While there are no magic numbers on how many time windows one should schedule for batch checking e-mails, experts recommend that they should be scheduled at least 30 minutes apart from each other.

Check the length of your e-mail

Web behavior analysts suggest that a reader tends to lose interest if the contents of an e-mail are more than one screen shot. E-mails are meant to be a communication tool, not a publishing medium. If the contents of the e-mail are too large to fit into one screen, it may be a better idea to put it all together in “Word” document and attach it.

Subject matters

A ‘Hi’ is a short for ‘Hello’ and it ends there! Most of us tend to focus on the contents of the e-mail without worrying too much about the subject line. Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Principal of business writing firm Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts & Associates, argues that the subject line is the most important part of an e-mail. Unless the subject line is captivating and directed, one cannot expect an apt and immediate reaction to it.

Empirical evidence proves that bad e-mail practices can be a primary source of stress and anxiety for an individual as well as his/her co-workers. The key to good e-mail hygiene, perhaps, lies in adopting a disciplined approach to follow the basic rules of e-mail hygiene. Such an approach can contribute to reducing stress and anxiety to a great extent.

The five tenets of e-mail hygiene

  1. Avoid prioritizing e-mails over your most important activities for the day
  2. Schedule meetings through collaboration platforms, such as IM
  3. Check e-mails in batches in regular intervals
  4. Avoid long e-mails
  5. Summarize the contents of the e-mail in the most appropriate subject line