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Should I have responded at all to an accusatory, inflammatory email directed at me and a colleague?

I responded fairly simply 'I know nothing about what you're accusing me of'.

The subject was regarding a lack of consulatation on some plans that the individual believes are being put into place that would affect the working practices of his (ex) team.

He cc'd in every single member of the team and a labor union representative.

The plain fact is, no such plans have been made or even considered so he is escalating hearsay.

I perceived it as inflammatory and harming my reputation as one who is strongly consultative in any changes in the workplace.

I wasnt in the office at the time so couldn't talk directly to the guy and basically I got angry.

I reacted (after about 3 draft emails) simply, as above but I wonder whether I should have as the guy is known as doing things like this and point-scoring (ie he loves to escalate and cause a scene).

opinions folks please.....on what I've done so far and what to do next (talk to his boss about it or talk to him in person).

TomW's picture

He sounds like someone who is just stirring up the pot. Worry more about what your peers and superiors thing than what he does. I'd say right now you have a little damage control to do.

In the times I've had that come up, I've sent a message to everyone on the recipient list except the original sender with a question like "Is this something any of you have been working on? I'm not aware of any such thing."

It sends the message to everyone else that (A) you're not aware of it and (B) opens the possibility that someone else has been talking about it that you were not aware of. Once you have a fuller story, you can write back to the original sender.

Your response to the original sender sounds a little like a politician saying "no comment." I'm not sure it really achieved anything, since he's not likely to believe you anyway.

I'm assuming this person does not work for you, so you cannot give him a little adjusting feedback?

jhack's picture

You can't win a mud fight with a pig.

Don't send emails to the group without copying him. He will see it sooner or later (an ally will forward it to him) and you will be perceived as not a team player.

Stay cool.

You may not have any plans but that does not mean plans don't exist.

Reply to all, thanking him for his thoughtful email, and asking for clarification on plans of which you have no knowledge. Ask for specifics: can he share a copy of the plan that he's seen? Who is the project leader? What parts of the plan does he have concerns about?

In essence, you should respond by making this his project, and creating a lot of work for him.

John

US41's picture

Almost all unpleasant behavior at the office is about power. He feels powerless, and his way of attempting to grab power is to use Law of Power #6: Court attention at all costs.

His goal, to put you on the defensive in a public display that shows him as pulling your strings and making you do things. He wants to appear brave in standing up to you, and he wants the power that comes from having others see him as a charismatic leader who sticks up for others.

There are many strategies for dealing with this ploy. Responding to him as you did is not one of them.

I recommend you read a book called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is an outstanding treatise on the political games people play in order to acquire and wield their power.

Law 4: Always say less than necessary. In this case, I would recommend ignoring him outright and letting his messages fall on deaf ears.

Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument. When someone starts an argument, take an action, do not argue. Actions could be no action such as ignoring him, or you could simply make a decision, such as printing out the message and taking it to his boss and then using feedback. "When your employee sends this kind of message to me, my team, and a labor rep, it harms the company and it hurts my ability to get things done and focus on work. Can you help me out here?"

I don't know what to recommend to you because I'd have to be in your office for years to understand the culture and the dynamics between all of the players. But I will say that you should invest in the book so that you can see through such ploys and what the real goal is. I would recommend against using the book for short-term gains and invoking too many of its practices in your own managerial behavior without considering the risks. Such behavior can be self-destructive, as your friend will soon learn.

As the manager, I think it is important you not allow people like this to spend your time or recruit you into their temper tantrums. Just because they write something doesn't mean anything happened. Everyone except the offended parties (you) probably rolled their eyes and didn't even finish the message.

After your failure to respond several times, he will probably find someone else who reacts satisfyingly to poke with an umbrella.

ashdenver's picture

[quote="jhack"]Reply to all, thanking him for his thoughtful email, and asking for clarification on plans of which you have no knowledge. Ask for specifics: can he share a copy of the plan that he's seen? Who is the project leader? What parts of the plan does he have concerns about?

In essence, you should respond by making this his project, and creating a lot of work for him. [/quote]
Jhack said it better than I could have. Whenever possible, I throw the ball back in their court. If you want to accuse, by all means have at it but be sure to arrive prepared because you can bet your bottom dollar that I will most assuredly be prepared.

(Plus, lobbing it back shows to all on the CC list how ill-prepared [i]he [/i]was in the first place.)

canario's picture

This is an interesting topic. What if your job is to "escalate" according to your organization internal procedures? I'm talking about a Help Desk / Service Desk postion.

First call - no response within 5 minutes - call 2nd number (usually it's a team leader / manager) then if there is no response for 5 min you go up the ladder.

Bare in mind the fact the procedures are to be obeyed "letter by letter".

It's sometimes tough to call a person at 3:30 AM knowing he is probably in a deep sleep after a tough day - I have to do it when there are millions of dollar risks involed.

P.S. (Yeah I know... no Mr. Popularity award for me...)

TomW's picture

[quote="canario"]This is an interesting topic. What if your job is to "escalate" according to your organization internal procedures? I'm talking about a Help Desk / Service Desk postion.

First call - no response within 5 minutes - call 2nd number (usually it's a team leader / manager) then if there is no response for 5 you go up the ladder.[/quote]

There's a big different between "escalating" to the next level of IT support and skipping over levels of management. I doubt anyone in IT would feel like you were going over their head because you called the next person in the sequence.

canario's picture

Crystal Clear. I wished everyone would see it this way. There is some sort of rotten smell attached to this word.

Fitch's picture

Interesting point about the role being [i]to[/i] escalate. I used to work in a place where there were two rules - if a job was stopped and hadn't started within 10 minutes the team leader was informed, if it hadn't restarted within 1 hour then the senior manager was informed. It certainly focused minds!

Fitch's picture

Dear All,

thanks for the comments/opinions.

I spoke to his manager this week about his behaviour and that I had found it un-necessary and I felt it could have undermined my credibility when a face to face would've done the job. Hope that was the right thing to do!

The mail I actually sent ('I know nothing') probably wasn't the best choice. The other two I thought about sending were (as per TomW) 'Interesting information, could you let me know who's leading on this so I can go and discuss with them'. Which would've been cc'd to everyone who got it originally. I figured this would be a little bit of a tit-for-tat and public embaressment. I'm not into that kind of thing (well, I am but try and bottle it up when at work!). My second choice (my own thoughts) would've been 'I know nada, if there are any such plans then I suggest you talk to someone instead of making accusations publicly and escalate what may have no basis to the labor unions'. That one would've been directly to the person himself, not cc'd to anyone.

Yeah, the guy's a peer so feedback isn't the place really. My preference still would've been a face-to-face with him in private to explain as per the feedback model what his behaviour could have led to. Face-to-face wasn't possible due to neither of us being in the office for a few weeks, so i wanted to get something out...What was interesting (and confirms one of the comments about 'pot stirrer') was that a colleague of mine received an email from him (cc'd) to the exec team - which was a list of verbatim quotes from others he had received about issues at the workplace and lack of support from certain departments/individuals . They were pretty harsh and not the kind of thing you put in an email - more 'word in the ear' kind of thing to the relevant executive to alert them to a potential issue that they could then follow up.