There’s Value in That

Over lunch with a client recently I became involved in an engaging conversation about the different ways leaders communicate ideas in writing. We talked about how good writing should not be taken for granted, and the number of leaders we know whose writing sometimes limits their effectiveness.

Not surprisingly given my typical conversations, our discussion turned toward her experience of writing and the different types of value it can have under different circumstances. My client described how she learned not to immediately hit the ‘send’ button when she writes in an angry email. In fact, when she is inclined to send an angry email, she writes it in Microsoft Word first rather than in an email application to be sure that she doesn’t mistakenly send something she would later regret. “Great idea,” I said. We agreed that there is value in writing down the angry sentiment and just ‘getting it out’ of ourselves. “Sometimes that’s extremely valuable for me,” she said.

We then talked about how it is sometimes very useful to step back and examine that angry email and read it more deliberately—an action that helps us to decide which portions would have value to share with others. We concluded that the process of filtering our thoughts in this manner has value as well. Through that process, one can discern the difference between what is real data and what is emotional reaction, what is a true need and what is a preference, among other things.

Sometimes, but not always, there’s value in communicating a cleaned up, more focused version of an angry email, which certainly can influence others and contribute to positive changes. There’s value in that for sure, we both agreed. There is also a value gained by the person receiving the email, who can clearly understand, perhaps with the help of some reflection, what are our intentions, aspirations and feelings. This shared oppenness builds relationships. My client nodded some more as we talked. As our conversation came to a close, we discussed how an email like that could be shared with her team. Her direct reports would learn about her triggers, her ‘non-negotiables’, and how she sets boundaries and asks for what she needs and wants. “Oh yeah, that has had great value for me,” she said.

As I reflect more on that conversation, I realize that the value comes not only from participating in these different activities, but also from being willing to be open and to share our experience. But perhaps more importantly, gaining value becomes possible through the openness to learn from experience, to be willing to reflect on our so-called negative experiences, and recognizing our responsibility to teach others.