EQ Rule #9: Emotional Intelligence: Write in Reverse

By Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
Reprinted with Permission

“You can’t be serious.”

My team leader had just sent a text message, looking for an update on a task he had delegated: I was supposed to set up a team-building activity for our team’s monthly meeting.

Only problem was it had been a super busy month, and I hadn’t done it yet. I still had a couple of weeks to get it ready, but he wanted to know where we stood. He also wanted to share some suggestions.

This triggered me. I know it shouldn’t have; it was a simple request. But because I’d hoped to be further along, I got worked up.

Why is he getting on me for this now? And why so many added suggestions—I thought he had delegated this to me. Can’t he just let me handle it?

The message actually came in the evening, and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. So, I didn’t respond until the next day.

I started drafting my response:

Hey Steve, sorry for the delayed reply. I’ve had a lot going on and have been feeling a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t had time to do much planning with the team-building activity because I’ve been so involved in this project …

I paused for a moment.

Wait.

What was I thinking?

I imagined what Steve might think reading this. Maybe that I was the wrong person for the job. That maybe I couldn’t handle my current workload.

But here’s the thing: I could handle it.

Organizing this team-building activity was something I’d been looking forward to–that’s why I was so enthusiastic about it from the get-go. And I had ideas, I just hadn’t been able to implement them yet.

It had simply been a rough couple of weeks—which I had now managed to get through and put behind me.

I needed to rewrite this message, following a simple rule of emotional intelligence:
Writing in reverse.

I rewrote my own message:

Hey Steve, thanks for your message. Can’t reply this second, but I will get back to you asap …

Hey again, thanks again for your message yesterday. Yes, I have some ideas on this and am moving forward. Would love to hear your suggestions–please send them over and then we can discuss. We can also do a call if you like.

Steve’s response:

Sounds good! Here they are—look forward to discussing!

The Lesson

When you learn how to write in reverse, you’ll give your audience exactly what they need, while getting what you need from them: freedom, confidence, and peace of mind.

Writing in reverse is simple: You have to reverse the roles of the writer (you) with the recipient (your audience).

In an age when written communication like email, Slack, and text messaging rules, writing in reverse is extremely helpful—because it keeps you from:

  • writing purely from an emotional perspective,
  • writing too much, or
  • writing what is not helpful to the recipient.

Writing in reverse is emotionally intelligent—because it helps you develop your empathy muscle. In addition, it keeps you from letting emotions dictate your message, as was the case in my situation. But by taking a pause, I was able to calm down first, so I could give a more balanced reply—one that wouldn’t actually make the situation worse.

Try This

When you receive a message and are tempted to respond emotionally, write in reverse—by doing the following:

1. If you’re writing a reply, first acknowledge the initial message. Then, wait.
This puts them at ease, so they don’t keep wondering whether you’ve seen the message or not.

Then, it’s great if you can wait at least a couple of hours before responding. And it’s even better if you can wait 24 hours.

2. Write your message and save it as a draft.
Your first draft is likely to be based primarily on emotion. But giving yourself the opportunity to write it will help you to “vent.” Word of caution: Draft your email as a separate email entirely, not as a reply. And don’t add the recipients name until you are ready to hit send.

3. Let some time pass; then, review and revise your draft.
Give yourself as much time as needed to allow your emotions to come back into balance. Keeping your recipient in mind, ask yourself:

  • Am I writing too much?
  • Is the message confusing? Will it raise more questions than it will answer?
  • Is there anything that could be misinterpreted, or that sounds angry, desperate, or emotional?
  • Is there anything unnecessary I can remove from this message?
  • Would it be better to communicate this by phone (or in person)?
  • Try to keep things as brief yet clear as possible.

Once you’ve gotten enough practice, you’ll do these steps naturally, save yourself time and grief, and write messages that your recipients find helpful.

In summary
When you “write in reverse”, you’ll. . .

  • give your audience exactly what they need
  • communicate your true feelings, thoughts and ideas
  • get what you need from your audience

Worksheet
Use this handy worksheet to explore EQ Rule #9: Emotional Intelligence: Write in Reverse.

About the Author

Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
The founder of EQ Applied, Justin Bariso helps organizations and individuals develop their emotional intelligence. His thoughts on leadership and EQ draw over a million readers a month, and LinkedIn named him a “Top Voice” in the field of management and workplace culture three years in a row. His book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, shares fascinating research, modern examples, and personal stories that illustrate how emotional intelligence works in the real world. Email: [email protected]

 

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Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure its accuracy and completeness. It is the responsibility of the reader to refer to the definitions, descriptions, conventions, and guidelines specific to each coding classification, as well as relevant laws and regulations when selecting and reporting medical codes.

About the Author

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