How to write a critical email to coworkers without seeming like a jerk
The one magical word to soften the blow
Criticism that comes from a boss, via email is quite possibly the worst kind there is, not least of all because the words arrive unaccompanied by the smile or the hand on a shoulder that the critic might use IRL.
One potential solution is for managers to deliver all their feedback in person, and with a giant grin on their face.
Another, easier solution? Use the word “yet” in emails to soften the blow.
That’s according to Jocelyn K. Glei, author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done.” In an interview with Business Insider, Glei explained why this word works like magic in an email conveying critical feedback.
She cited research by the psychologist Carol Dweck, who is known for her ideas about “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Someone with a fixed mindset thinks their abilities are innate, and they can’t change their strengths and weaknesses. Someone with a growth mindset thinks they can develop new skills through challenge and even failure.
Those who adopt a growth mindset, Dweck has found, are generally better positioned for success.
In her 2014 TEDx Talk, Dweck mentioned a high school in Chicago in which students got the grade “Not Yet” when they didn’t pass a course. “You understand that you’re on a learning curve,” Dweck said. “It gives you a path into the future.”
Managers can employ a similar strategy. Glei gave an example of how a boss might use the word “yet” in an email. Instead of saying, “I don’t think these designs are where I want them to be,” you’d say, “I don’t think these designs are where I want them to be yet” (without the italics, of course).
In the first instance, Glei said, the recipient might feel like they failed. In the second instance, it “automatically shifts to this mindset where they are on a timeline, making progress.”
The idea is to help cultivate that growth mindset in your employees, so that they don’t give up. Instead of interpreting your comments as reflective of their general intelligence and abilities, they’ll know that you have confidence that they can try harder and do better.
Ultimately, Glei said, it’s all about “keeping people really motivated.”