Maria opened her inbox one morning and found, among the usual meeting announcements, deadline reminders, and spam, a message from Ken. Ken and Maria had had some difficulties, and a low-grade feud had been simmering for some time. So when Maria saw Ken's name, she felt a twinge. His messages were never good news. And this one certainly wasn't.
"I need your input for the quarterly report by Friday," Ken reminded her. That was fine. But he went on, "I hope you'll make the deadline this quarter." Less fine. And he had CC'd her boss. Definitely not fine.
Ken's message to Maria contained a "tweaking CC," which is a CC to someone whom the sender believes has influence or power over the recipient. The tweaking CC is designed to intimidate.
We use the tweaking CC when we want to rattle people, by tattling on them or informing on them [Brenner 2006] When used artfully, the tweaking CC provides cover to the sender, who can claim that the CCs were included only to keep everyone in the loop. Usually, this "FYI veil" is pretty thin — everyone can see right through it, except perhaps the sender.
When you receive a message with a tweaking CC, remember:
- It's possible that the message you're looking at doesn't have a tweaking CC. Maybe the sender added the CCs for some other reason that you don't know about.
- Tweaking CCs hurt. Let yourself feel the hurt. Denying the hurt will only cause you more grief later. Get support if you need it.
- The sender is in pain, too. The sender's self-esteem is low. Senders of tweaking CCs often feel that it would not be enough to simply let you know that something is amiss — it's necessary to tell someone really powerful.
- Taking any action at all within the first hour or two is unwise — you're very likely to make things worse.
- Defending yourself gives credibility to the sender.
- Defending yourself in email is risky because emails are so easily misunderstood.
powerlessWhat about Maria? She went for a 20-minute walk. Later, she dropped in on her boss. She explained that she regarded the email from Ken as a tweaking CC. Her boss instantly recognized what she meant by the term, and told her that when he received the message he recognized it as such. He asked Maria if she wanted anything done about Ken's behavior, but Maria declined the offer, saying that since all was well between the two of them, she felt better, and she would find a way to work things out with Ken.
Are you so buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Do you miss important messages? So many of the problems we have with email are actually within our power to solve, if we just realize the consequences of our own actions. Read 101 Tips for Writing and Managing Email to learn how to make peace with your inbox. Order Now!
And if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
- And on March 13: On Anticipating Consequences
- Much of what goes wrong when we change systems to improve them falls into a category we call unanticipated consequences. Even when we lack models that can project these results accurately, morphological analysis that can help us avoid much misery. Available here and by RSS on March 13.
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