My co-worker sent me an email I found disrespectful, but when I pointed that out, he said I was being too sensitive. I have to work with him on a daily basis. How do I navigate this situation? – Leslie in Jackson, MS
TINA: This is a terrific question, and one that most women and even men can attest to. When you receive an email like this, it’s fine to point it out. Take a deep breath before you approach the sender.
But remember: It’s how you feel about the email, not necessarily the intent of it. When you’re addressing your co-worker, put yourself at an equal level: “I completely respect that you may not have meant for it to be taken that way, or for it to be interpreted that way, but I found it that way. Where can we find some common ground? You may feel that I’m being too sensitive, and I feel that you’re being disrespectful. Let’s figure out a way to even this out and maybe learn a little more about each other. If we’re going to work together on a daily basis we need to find some common ground.”
There are times that I have read emails and I’m reading between the lines, or I’m catching it on the fly and not taking the time. As soon as I’m having a negative reaction to an email, I take a step back and then come back to it later and read it again. And then I take action. I would say that, more often than not, it’s better to address the concern in person or over the phone, if possible, and not respond to an email with another email that just provokes an ongoing situation that could easily be resolved.
If in fact this co-worker continues to show you what you feel is disrespect, then you’ll need to elevate it to a higher level: to a manger or HR. Many times these things can be taken care of with a simple conversation.
LYNN: Tina covered that oftentimes the tone of an email can be misconstrued, especially when the content is short and may seem terse. The sender may not have had that intention, and you have to remember that there are different communication styles that may clash with yours.
So I would have a question back to you, Leslie: Was this a one-time incident? He may not have intended to make this sound disrespectful in any way. In that case, you can let it go. However, if this happens on a regular basis, then I would ask you: What about his in-person and verbal communications? Has he treated you with respect and professional courtesy in meetings, in person, on the phone, or on virtual calls? If his ongoing interaction with you feels disrespectful, then you need to ask for advice. You could ask your supervisor or manager for input; or talk to an HR representative. Another option is an in-person meeting with this individual, explaining how his behavior, the tone of voice, and his response make you feel.
If this continues and his behavior is truly egregious, as it appears in this question, then you must to take action. You’ve got to nip this in the bud. It’s inappropriate, and it’s going to negatively affect your interactions. Go your HR representative, supervisor, or manager with specific examples of the disrespectful behavior and insist on assistance to correct this situation.
Check out Chapters 9 and 10 of our book, Practical Wisdoms @ Work, for a more in depth look at this challenge.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.