Why do boneheads get bonuses?




Being seen means you’re keen

Andy was seething between slurps of his Americano (formerly known as plain old ‘black coffee’).  “There’s this guy at work and he got a massive pay rise this year and now he’s managed to hop over to another company and he’s on £95k a year. He’s not heading a department or anything. He’s got a team of two and he’s coding and stuff.”

“He must be damn good then.” I suggested.

“No. He’s a bloody idiot, actually”

“So how come he’s doing so well, financially speaking, anyway?”

“One thing,” said Andy. “Visibility.”

Visibility is the key. Every time this guy – let’s call him – Guy (yep, my imagination is on freefall today) – achieved a milestone, set something up, resolved a problem he’d send an email out to managers.


Snatching credit vs. giving credit

Sitting with me was Andy’s girlfriend, Yolanta who voiced something that many of you may share:

“Doesn’t that make you an utter tosser, announcing every single thing you’re done. I mean, that’s like the whole Facebook thing: ‘look at me in a restaurant/on a beach.’ It’s so smug.”

I’d say there’s a thin line between having high visibility and being a total cretin and Guy crossed it regularly, appropriating a Wiki initiative that was set up by Andy as his ‘own project’.


Protecting your achievements

Since our conversation, Andy has created coding for a huge client with Guy regularly hovering over him wanting to know when it was ready so he could let management know about it (for which he’d take the credit, not Andy).

Andy lied, telling Guy he wasn’t sure the coding worked and there were a few bugs, thereby protecting his intellectual copyright.  Time passed and Andy suddenly announced the successful completion of the project to all.

What made Andy look more like ‘leadership material’ was not only the fact that he informed senior management of a completed milestone, but that he also named and thanked his team for helping him, copying them into the email.

As a result of his increased visibility, Andy has been rewarded with a handsome pay rise.

As for Guy the thieving Magpie, snatching triumph from below the noses of others, we’re sure that his high paying role is nothing but danger money for he has flown unknowingly into a highly adversarial atmosphere: no ping pong in the canteen there but a magpie fest of feather pulling where Guy comes off looking rather forlorn and burned out.

There now, that’s better: a little schadenfreude to help the coffee go down.



Breaking the Email Backlash

emailPeople do all sorts of things that can p!ss you off in emails, such as:

  • getting stroppy and obstructive;
  • being patronising and bossy;
  • ignoring you;
  • making trouble by copying in more people than necessary.

Here’s what to do:

Click here for an edited version of my workshop booklet, Breaking the Email Backlash.

The workshop you need to pay for as it’s hands on, personalised and face to face.  The download, though, is free.

Then, either pass this around through, say, HR, or use this email download as a signature for your own emails, thereby politely encouraging your recipients to polish up on their written communication skills.

Job done. Peace will reign.

Download here to get it immediately.

Does this make steam come out your ears?

Ah, the joys of email communication.

So many times, communication between people can break down simply because of how they’re using emails.

Ignoring how we use virtual communication when we look at relating to others, is like trying to run a car with a flat tyre: it’ll go but not very efficiently.

These three tips will keep that car away from the relationship breakdown garage, helping smooth the communication.

1. Irritation One: the words ‘should’:
For example, ‘You should let me know when you have authorisation for this and then I will action the request’. Similarly, replacing that with ‘have to’, which is even stronger, may start to annoy your recipient.

It could be seen as: patronising.

The Recommendation: replace ‘should’ and ‘have to’ with ‘You’ll need to’ or I’d strongly recommend that…’   This is easier to hear and act upon. It means the same without sounding like a finger-wagging parent.


2. Irritation Two: presumptuous wording such as ‘As you know…’ then adding totally new information that is unknown to everyone, but should have been known.

It could be seen as: someone covering their back

Recommendation: writing, ‘As you may know…’ and sticking to possibilities unless you can be certain.


3. Irritation Three: cc’ing in the boss, because you can’t get what you want from a colleague.
It could be seen as: trouble-making

Recommendation: if the communication is breaking down, go and see someone to get their advice. Usually, two adults should – excuse me – need – to be able to work it out between each other by saying:

a) what needs to be done and, perhaps, why the current situation could be problemetic

b) who will do it

c) finish with ‘As soon as you have this, I’ll be happy to help you’.

If the tone is constructive and respectful, there is less chance of being cold shouldered off line or email mud-slinging.


To know how direct you can be in English, without being rude or weak, look here:


Go here for three magic ways to get people off your back or…not, if you really want to annoy them:


Click on this link below, if you want to get requests acted upon quicker:


Got any email pains you want to get out there? Share and get them out your hair!

See you in the comments below!

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Your Emails Just Kill Me!

Hi Alex,

You haven’t given me the dates yet for when we’re meeting. Let me know this week, please.

Alison ‘

This email may seem rather too direct for some people, OK for others and a few may regard this as extraordinarily polite: there is a ‘please’ there, after all!

How direct we can be with others depends on the following:

  1. culture: some nationalities are generally more direct than others;
  2. context: maybe I’ve sent you 3 emails for the dates and you still haven’t got back to me;
  3. status: am I your boss, your supplier, your colleague, a trainee?
  4. personality: there are people you know who just ‘say it as it is’, and you can let it go. That comes down to trust: trust in the fact there’s no animosity behind the words. You don’t take it as a ‘stab’. Or you simply trust that they wouldn’t be so upfront unless there was, what you consider, to be some fairness there.

All this would depend on how well you know others and this could mean some trial and a couple of ‘errors’. Regard that as feedback and modify if it’s going to make a working relationship too prickly.

The Directness Thermometer

The Anglo-Saxon culture represents an email minefield for both natives and non-natives and even us Brits need to learn the art of ‘padding’ or softening requests, making them less direct.

However, be aware that ‘padding’ could seem non-committal in other cultures, so being more direct would mean that you actually get your requests fulfilled rather than brushed aside. So here’s a padding temperature gauge, starting with the most direct and progressing to the most polite…

Oy, give me that document now.
Oy, give me that document now, please
Give me that document now, please.
Do me a favour. Give me that document.
Could you please give me that document?
Would you be able to give me that document?
Can I ask you to give me that document?
(Despite the wording, you ARE actually asking for the document, not asking if you can ask for it. This is typical of an Anglo Saxon indirect request)
May I ask you to give me that document?
Would it be possible to ask you for that document?
Please, would it be – perhaps – possible that a chance may exist at some convenient point that you may be so kind as to give me that document?
(At this point, you’re on your knees, begging to a psychopath who has electric probes pointing at your head.  Maybe you’ll need this.  Maybe you won’t.  I’d say, think about re-evaluating the need for this relationship…)

There’s much reading between the lines in certain cultures such as Anglo-Saxon and South-East Asian countries. In his book, ‘Beyond Culture’, Edward Hall defines cultures such as the Japanese and Chinese high -context cultures.  One of the characteristics of such nations is that reading between the lines needs to be a common practice. These nationalities aren’t as literal, as ‘out there’ as cultures like the U.S or Germany, which Hall would define as low context.

How to Read Between the Lines

The Anglo Saxon culture can be a particular nightmare as it straddles both the high and low so here’s a short guide as to the (possible) meanings behind the words:

1.  You’ve misunderstood/You’re wrong!
= Maybe I didn’t make myself clear

2.   How many times do I need to TELL you?!/As I’ve told you…
= I do need to emphasise/Following my email (below)

3.   Why are you sending me this? Seems useless to me.
= Interesting. How do you see me using this?

4.    The client will think you’re (an idiot/going mad…)
= This may be perceived as (risky/unusual)…

5.    What changes! I seem to have lost my crystal ball.
= I wasn’t aware of any changes.

6.    Do this now. You should have done this yesterday.
= May I request you to do this now?

7.   What a rip-off! Do I look like a mug?!
= We’ll need to revisit the costings.

8.    I can’t see you tomorrow.
= I’m not sure I can see you tomorrow.

General rules are as follows:

  1. Instead of blaming others with a finger-pointing ‘you’, the Brits would tend to use the passive form (no person).  For example: “This may be perceived…”
  2. If there’s a problem to be solved, especially in negotiations, ‘we’ would be more likely, as in number 7.
  3. We’ll pad for requests, as in ‘May I request…?”.
  4. Substitute ‘Why?’ for ‘What would be the reasons for…’ or ‘How do you…’ as in number 2.
  5. Brits may use modals of probability such as ‘may/may not’ or phrases such as ‘I’m not sure that I can…’ as in number 8 instead of saying what they mean: ‘I can’t..’

Pick up the Phone

There are those who seem very off-putting in their email communication because they can’t see the effect their style is having or they hear their words differently to how the recipient is playing them back in their heads.

I know a delightful woman who is always irritating others with her email style.  No, I’m not being sarcastic.  She really is a lovely person but because she doesn’t know how to word her requests, she sounds aggressive.  Face to face, you get a completely different impression.

Tread carefully when you need to and you’ll be able to get your point across clearly without severing the relationship (unless you want to, of course..).  Do note, though, that sometimes the easiest action to take, if you do find yourself in a battle of words and wills, is to pick up the phone.

More often than not, hearing the intonation behind the intention will help both parties realise that an over-reliance on virtual contact may not be too constructive.


Need some help with how you communicate across cultures?  Click here and I may well be able to help you even more.

How to Piss People off in Emails

Here’s how:

  1. Ignore requests.
  2. Don’t address the sender when you reply. Just go straight into the message, or miss out the salutation.
  3. ‘Shout’ at them.

1. Dealing with requests – ‘Holding Emails’

Imagine you’re seeking information or clarification on something, so you fire off an email and nothing comes back. You wait a day, maybe two. Perhaps even a week later, zilch. Radio silence.What are you thinking? It’s a bit like being ignored. Actually, completely like being ignored and maybe you are.

Now, let’s look at this as if you’re the recipient. The sender may have requested copies/PDFs/figures/data etc and you just can’t get round to it at the moment. It’s really not the most important task on your ‘to do’ list. What with seeing clients, meetings, collating data for someone else blah, blah, blah, and there’s another 102 emails in your inbox that you have to sort through.

So, this is where ‘holding emails’ come in. Personally, I lerrrrvvvvve them. Here’s why:

  • they’re a way of making sure the sender knows s/he is on your radar and attention will be given to their needs;
  • the recipient still gets to maintain task priorities.

Buy time with a Holding Email

So here’s an example of how you’d write a holding email:

“Thanks for your email, Guy. I can collect the data that you need for Friday. Will that be OK?”

I know, holding emails aren’t exactly literary masterpieces. You don’t need to do an MBA to learn this but so few people write such vital messages.

Chances are that the suggested day will be fine.  If not, you can negotiate another time before someone throws a wobbly/their laptop at you. Habitually ignoring requests from colleagues will mean that you’re not a ‘go-to’ person and this will undermine their trust in you. The benefits of sending a holding email are as follows:

  1. it shows you know how to manage your time;
  2. you appreciate the importance of the requests of others and can balance these against your own priorities;
  3. you can be trusted and this helps build respect and team cohesion;
  4. when you’re in need of a bit of assistance, it’s more likely to come your way, rather than brushed under the carpet.

As you can see, they’re so simple and beneficial to both the recipient and author that there’s no reason why you can’t do them as soon as the moment arises.

2. Not addressing the recipient or avoiding a salutation

If you received message like this, would it strike you as diplomatic and assertive or aggressive and petulant? Would you want to make Pat a cup of tea or taser her?

Oh dear, Pat, did you get fired from Charm School?  I’ve changed names to protect the guilty. For your information, the slightly edited real message from a completely different company was the subject of a complaint about the author’s email etiquette, which resulted in her being fired for putting so many people’s backs up.

Goodbye, Pat, or, to adopt Pat’s style, ‘OFF YOU GO, PAT.’

Notice, how she starts with no salutation: ‘Hi’ would have been fine if she was too angry to manage a ‘dear’. Then, she goes straight in for the kill.

No names are OK – sometimes

If you’re in an ongoing conversation on the same topic with an individual, we now often treat this as an Instant Message (IM), and go straight into what we want to say, rather than start with a greeting.  This is now considered the norm. Do remember though, that if you’re starting a new topic with the same person, begin with a greeting, which of course, should include the name of the recipient.

So no plain, ‘Hi!’ but ‘Hi, Michael!” (Obviously, not Michael if that’s not their name!).

In a slightly longer email, mention the name again at the end. It gives the recipient a lovely warm glow of love in a completely professional way, of course, in the sense that there’s something more personal and direct about being named at the beginning and in the body of an email.

If you want something done, what better way than to have rapport because we’re more likely to do something for someone we like. Human nature. Of course, when that doesn’t work, you can put the pressure on, but that’s another ‘Tips ‘n’ Tools’ piece and not for here.

Even if you were to turn the heat up, I’d still use the person’s name at the end as it makes the message more direct, more personal.



You can assert yourself through the power of direct and courteous language. If you need help, hey, you know where I am. SO JUST GET IN TOUCH! (or ‘just get in touch!’)

So now, you can look forward to being able to avoid those misunderstandings with ‘tone of voice’ in emails.

Three Small Ways to Write Emails that People Act Upon

Three Small Ways to write Emails that People act on.

If you want people to reply to your emails with more speed, then use the following pointers in your messages and get rid of those ‘chase up’ flags!

1. Write Specific Titles

Make sure the title matches the subject and is specific. This email below is not specific enough:

Stella may have 3 meetings so when she sees Jock’s email, she may be confused as to which one Jock’s referring.

Now compare this email heading, where Jock’s been very specific about the subject so Stella will instantly know which meeting is being mentioned.

2. Keep Subjects Separate

It’s much easier to respond to subjects when you send each one in a separate email.

If you combine subjects in emails, there’s more risk of the them being ‘buried’ and ignored. To mitigate this, and to make it easier for you to keep track of where you are with each issue, allot a separate email to different subjects.

3. Give the right amount of information

One of the reasons why no one replies to your email, is information overload. On the other hand, too little information and the receiver can be left in the dark.

Some people want detail, some just the gist. The safest bet here is to:

  1. keep your points succinct and short;
  2. ensure your points are numbered and well space, makiing it easier for the eye to scan information;

  3. highlight important points with a space above and below in addition to emphasising with the use of a different colour.


If you need to provide extra information, you can:

  • offer a meeting/call
  • provide an attachment, giving those who want to ‘drill down’ the opportunity to get the detail.

Applying these tips will help you to get from this…

to this:

…without pulling teeth!

Close up and Personal

If you think you’re better with face to face training, Switch Vision can run courses for you – whether as a one to one or in a group.

See more: click here .

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