Research First, Angry Email Later


Despite the title, I am not in favor of sending angry emails. I use to be known for my emails, sent out of frustration, and also justified in content. However, in hindsight, I regret all of them that could have been communicated face-to-face, or after the frustration had faded.

I received an email such as this, this week. I received it after 9:oo PM, and late night bad emails are the worst. I attempt to not read email after 7 PM, because I know in an emergency people will call me, and I know late night emails are often full of stress and regret.

After reading the email, I did have to reply. I knew this person might start being aggressive with my staff the next morning, and I would not be there based-on my work plan (I cover two campuses in different areas of my city). So I asked that they give me time to research the problem, and reminded them that even though the fault seemed to fall on the IT support people, in fact, those same people had been dependable in the past. And that those people also have been working overtime to accommodate jobs that are not part of their employment contract. These are people who are mindful enough to call me when they know they have made a mistake or forgotten something.

Do Your Research

There is data everywhere. School administrators and heads of department need to start paying attention to where data comes from and where it is stored. Card swipe systems, cctv footage, security guards walking around(with smartkeys), email time-stamps, network access logs (when someone logs in and out), etc. The first step in any “he said she said” should be accessing data and not the anecdotal kind.

I always take time to look at the environment, the people, and the systems surrounding them to determine if an impartial data source exists.

Separate and Report

Often when people collect data, they get the pieces they need and make a report. The people reading the report do not see all the data (Sounds like a congressional trial transcript to me).

The best practice is to make a copy of the raw data, and archive it. I think a zip archive is an excellent way to do this, as it creates metadata. It will be clear if there was any manipulation in the data file used in the report.

Then, instead of deleting, highlight the data points that are valid for the argument.
It is ok to sort them to the top of a list, but try not to remove the other pieces. If you argument is sound, and/or, the best of the worst based on what is known (also very congressional), then the extra data is not going to hurt the report. In fact, someone may find something useful that was missed.

Then make the report, and do not use the words feel, believe, or think. State the facts that the data supports first. Then add verbal accounts of the event. Using emails as data works best if you print them as PDF files and then highlight the time-stamp and key details. Do not copy and paste emails, even forwarded emails can seem bogative.

How Did It End?

My department was not at fault. The event in question ran outside of the contractual working hours, so the space was prepared by the IT support before they left. Their two points of contact failed to respond to communication, but the room was ready. However. the event organizers did not inform security. Security walked into a large room, saw that everything was left on, and in a moment of global awareness, they shut-off the power.

After pulling the data from the door swipe system, I found that security went into the room 20 minutes after the IT support people. This room is the only place power can be accessed.

A simple call to the person overseeing the building revealed no event has been logged for that evening, so basically, no one knew what was happening. Security wanted to save the school a few dollars in energy bills, and that was the end of the story.

I have taken the opportunity to allow the person who sent the email to ponder the data.
I am hoping they do the correct thing and inform everyone what really happened, as I suspect I was not the only email recipient that evening.

Right or Wrong, Let It Go

The wrong move in situations like this is to alert everyone that you are, in fact, awesome.
The wrong move is to make everyone angry when you are correct, ensuring that they skewer you the minute you are wrong. You will be wrong. Your team will make mistakes. You will make a plan that ruins someone’s day. This is going to happen. If you want forgiveness, be prepared to be forgiving, and give people a chance to correct their mistakes.

Data is like The Force, it cannot be welded in the presence of anger or it will turn you to the Darkside.

Tony DePrato

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