You've just "met" with a colleague — I'll call him Ian — to resolve an ongoing disagreement about resource allocations. I say met in quotes because you didn't actually meet face-to-face. It was at the end of a videoconference you both attended, and you and Ian stayed on after everyone else left. The two of you agreed that Ian's needs could wait for two weeks, and you could then have the access you needed through the end of the month. You also agreed on a process for resolving future conflicts using a framework you just now agreed to. The framework is a bit complicated, because it has several conditions that define relative priorities, but it should work.
You just hope that Ian understands the agreement the same way you do, and that he'll hold to it. If he does, it should work. But the operative word is if. You guess you'll just have to wait and see.
And that's the thing. You can do better than waiting and seeing — much better — by sending Ian an email message recapping the results of your non-meeting meeting. In that way you can dramatically improve the chances of your new agreement fulfilling its promise. Email recaps can help if the situation meets three conditions:
- The agreement is reasonably supportive of both parties to the agreement
- Both parties have at least a minimum of integrity
- The email recap fairly represents the transaction
This post explains how to construct email recaps, and how to use them in situations like the one above to strengthen agreements and make them more durable.
What an email recap is
A recap A recap is a short email message that summarizes
the main points of a conversation that has just
occurred. It's usually written immediately
after the conversation ends.is a short email message that summarizes the main points of a conversation that has just occurred. It's usually written immediately after the conversation ends, by only one of the participants in that conversation. It doesn't cover every detail of the conversation, because it's written as a high-level summary. It's complete enough so that both participants would agree that the major points of the conversation are all included in the recap.
Keep in mind that the primary purpose of the email recap is to record the broad strokes of the agreement in one place for future reference. It's a tool for quickly resolving — or even better, for preventing — future disputes. From time to time, we might amend our agreement, but the recap message says, "Here's what we agree to at this point."
Why sending a recap message is a good idea
Here are some examples of benefits of sending an email recap message to the person you just reached agreement with. I'll continue to refer to that person as Ian, and I'll refer to the content of the agreement as X.
- If you and Ian have different understandings of X, the email recap makes obvious the need for more conversation.
- Composing the email recap helps clarify X in your own mind.
- In composing the email recap you might realize some important points that eluded you until now.
- The email recap can be a useful resource in a future dispute with Ian if you later want to recall what X was.
Have a well-crafted subject line
Since an email recap is an email message, it will end up in your recipient's mailbox. Using a simple, intuitive format for its subject line will simplify finding it again, when it's needed. Examples:
- Recap of our conversation about X
- Summary of our agreement about X
- Summary of the framework we just adopted for X
Whatever format you use for subject lines for email recaps, be sure to use it for all email recaps. That makes them easy to find and easy to write a filter for.
Risks of sending a recap message
Sending email recaps is not without risk. Ian might think that because you don't trust him, you felt it was necessary to send an email recap. There are two cases of interest with respect to this risk.
- Your relationship with Ian is in serious trouble
- In this case, the risk that Ian might feel distrusted is significant. It might be better not to send Ian an email recap. But you can still send one to yourself, just to make a record for your own use.
- You and Ian are working together just barely well enough
- In this case, consider sending a recap only to yourself, as a record. The risk of offending Ian might outweigh the benefit of a recap.
A respectful, humble tone is your risk mitigation strategy. Be sure to ask Ian to let you know if any amendments are needed. Expect Ian to offer some minor amendments, or to set you straight on anything you might have missed.
What to avoid
Be careful not to project a tone that implies that your own recollection is absolutely correct and definitive. On the other hand, also avoid expressing doubts about important elements of the agreement. For example, asking Ian directly for missing bits of information isn't advisable. To do so would cast doubt on the rest of your recap.
Acknowledge possible misunderstandings on your part. Here are some key phrases that help to express that acknowledgement.
- As I understand the outcome of our conversation just now
- Here's my recollection of what we just agreed to
- Let me know whether or not this fits your recollection
- Of course I could be mistaken
- Maybe you recall it differently, but here's what I think we said
- I believe we decided to defer on X for the time being
- I believe we decided to leave X open until Y is set
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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About Point Lookout
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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