Fear Isn’t Bad


A couple days ago, a guy on my team came back from vacation, got an email that upset him, then instead of going to the person that upset him sent a scathing email to everyone including the users where he admonished the person. His email was well crafted to make it completely unclear to the end users if it was directed at them or not.

He was working remotely when he sent it and included me on it. After reading it, I started my reply to him with "Whooa! This is NOT appropriate!!"

Sadly, that was as far as I got before one of the users on the email called. Seeing her name, I swore to myself.

"Hi, Sue – I know why you are calling," I answered.

She laughed, then started asking if they had done something wrong with trying to get their issue escalated. I assured her they were not the focus of this email – everything they had done was right – he was in the wrong for a few reasons – then I apologized for this drama.

Thankfully Sue and I have a good relationship, so she assured me she understands the challenges of coaching people to have better communications. She thanked me for being on top of it. And all was good with her.

I finished my email scolding him for what he had done. I reminded him that our internal family fighting is not something we need to show the neighbors, so keep it in the family. Then I pointed out he had misread the email he was responding to. I closed letting him know I had it all handled.

His response back was, "sorry – I was just frustrated."

I left that right there. We’d be talking more about this in person – this was not an email conversation. He and I have a standing meeting, so honestly I was going to let him sit with this for a few days before we chatted. I normally wouldn’t do that, but he is one that needs to sit and think about what he has done so that he is ready to have a productive conversation about it. I have learned that about him.

It was a good plan until I came into work this morning.

Forwarded email from my boss with no note from him – just the forward. I recognized the subject line because it was the same as the one from the email on Monday.

"Oh, crap," I thought as I scrolled down to the message he was forwarding.

The message was from his peer, a reasonable man who has been with the company for 30 years. I met him my first month here and found he was a quiet guy who, when he did speak, was quite insightful with what he had to say. I knew his message was going to hurt more because of the kind of guy he is. It wouldn’t be harsh, just make me feel like I disappointed my favorite person.

And it did.

I read it twice, then turned around to address the guy who started all of this because he sits next to me.

"Come with me," was all I said.

He followed me into my boss’s office where I shut the door and took my seat in my boss’s chair. I should mention that my boss has a huge chair. I tease my boss that it is more throne than chair. Normally when I use my boss’s office, I sit in a different chair. But not today, I was taking the throne.

"So what’s up," he asked.

"I want to talk to you about that email you sent the other day," I began. I followed this awesome script that I was taught years ago. After the generalized opening, I went into the facts. Users escalated their issue. Help desk sent you a message communicating the message. He sent off his flaming message.

So far he’s following along fine. Just listening.

"As a result of your email, I received a call from one of the users on that email – Sue – who was worried they had done something wrong."

While I said that, his face starts changing from an "ok where is this going" to "oh shit".

I continued, "And last night, our boss got a message from his peer – the guy who is ultimately responsible for those users."

Now his entire body language has shifted into "oh fuck – what have I done". He visibly is shrinking before my eyes.

And all I have done is outline the facts of why we are talking. No opinion of mine – no judgement. I hadn’t gotten to that part of the script yet.

In Chapter 17 of The Prince by Machiavelli, he writes:

“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

Fear is definitely where he was living at the moment – and I couldn’t have cared less about being loved. I was not happy. I was pissed. I was embarrassed that a member of my team would act like that in front of the users as well as treat their peers like that. And the fact fall out was still occurring was not helping.

When I got through the details of the message my boss had shared, he was all but begging for mercy. And again, I hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet.

I let him talk. He apologized. He apologized to our boss. He apologized to the users and his peer. He also was making promises to never do anything like that again.

"Well that good," I said, "because this behavior completely undermines all of work my boss and I have been doing to shift the perception of our team by the business. This sort of situation and the way it has exploded shows our words mean nothing because our actions show them we don’t want to be partners with them. We want them to leave us alone is what we showed them."

He was back to the "oh fuck" body language again.

"And this happening at a time when it is the busiest for them makes it even worse. Back when I worked for a manufacturing company, we knew there were times during their busy season where shit was happening and all they could do is call for help – they didn’t have time to go look up the solution online. During the emergency is not when you can expect to train anyone," I pointed out.

And he was back to the apologizing and groveling.

"I promise I won’t do that again. If we can get the other team to help with this too, it will even be better for the users," he suggested.

"Yes it will, but back to the issue at hand – what are YOU going to do differently?"

Don’t get me wrong – the way the two groups in this department work puts the fun back into dysfunction. And we are all trying to fix that. I just didn’t want him to think if he went down the path of how he can help the other team change that it would solve the fact this situation is all about HIM.

We got through the rest of the conversation. He has a list of things to change or not do in the future. Then I came back to my desk to write a message back to the boss.

What’s funny is the fact he keeps checking in with me – I’m like the great eye of Sauron who he knows is watching.

As long as me watching results in him from being a dumbass again – it’s all good. Fear is not bad.

What do you think?

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