When I was but a young lad (I’m guessing about high school) I was listening to a pastor who was trying to explain to the males in the audience why they were idiots and constantly getting in trouble with their spouses.
“You call your wife,” he said, “with the best of intentions. You say, ‘Hi, Honey. I just wanted to call you and tell you that I love you.’ She appreciates the call and the sentiment and expresses her thanks. Now, at that point, if you were just smart enough to hang up, all would be well. But, no, your mind wanders and you remember something else you meant to mention earlier. ‘By the way, I noticed this morning we’re out of bread. Could you pick some up today while you’re out?’ And, as you find yourself suddenly listening to a dial tone, you shake your head and mutter something about how you will never understand women.”
I may not have been wise in the ways of relationship management at that tender age, but even I was smart enough to figure out the point - never mix your messages. If the message is meant to be one of love - in fact, if in the preface you state that the entire purpose of the communication is to express such love - you never want to mix it with the mundane activities of everyday life. “I love you so much I couldn’t help but think about the fact that we’re out of bread.”
This story came to mind a few weeks ago when I was copied on an e-mail in which I watched a manager do the exact same thing. No, he wasn’t expressing his love to an employee. (Thank goodness. I’ve made enough trips to HR in my career.) Rather, he was trying to show his appreciation for some work that had been accomplished.
The e-mail was titled something to the effect of “Thanks.” In the first paragraph, the manager said he wanted to thank her for all the help she had recently provided. Then, in the second paragraph he outlined some additional work he needed her to complete. In other words, he indicated that his appreciation was so great that all he could think about was all the other work that needed to be done.
It just so happens I’ve seen this happen two or three times in the last couple of months. Messages with the best of intentions destroyed by thoughtlessly including the work that still needed to get done. (This includes one I saw a month or so ago that talked about what a good mood everyone was in, but they should all remember there was important work left to do. Okay, it wasn’t exactly like that. But, based on the feedback I received from some of the recipients, they sure took it that way.)
My guess is you’ve had it happen to you. (My guess is some of you have inadvertently done it.) The intent is perfectly good – take the opportunity to pass on some thanks. But then, while the author of the e-mail is thinking about the subject, he or she remembers something else that needs to be done. How counter-productive, how demoralizing, and how flat out irritating.
So, here’s the moral/message/point. Do not mix your messages. If someone deserves praise, give them that praise. And then hang up the phone/send the e-mail/walk away from the discussion/fight every urge in your body to bring up the real world work that may need to get done. Save that for a separate phone call/e-mail/conversation. No additional comment is so important it is worth destroying the powerful intentions of that single thank you.