I get a lot of wonderful reader mail. But the nasty e-mails are the ones that you can really learn something from. Take this one (please!) that I received earlier this week from a reader at ABCNews.com:
"You are an idiot; the main thing wrong at my workplace is management. Same as the last job. It would be nice to be treated as an equal in all areas, not just when I come in late once every two years and get dinged for it. Most punks half my age don't know what work is, just a bunch of whiney spoiled brats with greasy spiky hair. I deal with hundreds of slackers too lazy to click three times to find an answer or listen to a front end message to call the write extension for help, including most of all 'management.' What a bunch of losers. 50 percent of my coworkers have at least two years on the job and are clueless."
When addressing an e-mail like this -- I guess you could call it a target-rich environment -- because there is so much to comment on.
Let me start with his opening -- "You are an idiot." What a great way to motivate your reader to want to keep reading what you've written. The problem is that most of us forget the old rule that you'll always get more with honey than with a smack on the butt -- at least that's what my mom told me when I was just a little sprout.
If the game that you're playing is to be self-righteous and burn every bridge, then of course lead with a vicious attack targeting your reader. Heck, throw in a choice vulgarity while you're at it. However, if you'd like to see something positive come from an interaction, stick to the facts and you just might get your reader to listen to what you have to say. Just a thought.
I do like that he blames management for the problems at this job and his last one. After personally responding to more than 50,000 e-mails from bosses and employees, you don't have to convince me that there are a lot of bad bosses out there. But when you have the same problem following you from job to job, there is a point where you have to ask yourself: What is the "common denominator" here? And more importantly, you'd be well-served by remembering the "it takes two to tango" rule. In other words, how do you contribute to the problem? I always try to ask these questions before I attack someone.
Then there is his diatribe on the "losers" he is forced to work with. Again it's all, "they do this," "they do that." It seems everything is someone else's fault.
OK, you are thinking that I'm beating up on this poor guy. But to me this is the greatest example of why the workplace is getting so nasty and difficult to maneuver through -- because this guy isn't alone. There are so many people out there screaming "they, they, they" when, ironically, they could probably be happier and learn more if they spent more time exploring "me, me, me." But we can only make this leap when we are thinking rationally and are able to muster some real introspection, something few of us have any time or inclination to do anymore.
I know that work is tough, even demoralizing, some times. But I do think it's interesting that in just one paragraph this guy attacked me, management, and the losers he has to work with. Wow, isn't this great energy that you'd like to spend 40 hours a week with? Again, it's too easy to blame just him. The important question is to look in the mirror to ask: "What baggage do I bring to work each day?" And, "How hard is it to put up with me on a daily basis?"