Leadership Discussion – How to Lose Your Team with One Email

Nov 12, 2020 9:46:46 AM

By: Bluefield AMS

During a recent webinar in the Bluefield Effective Maintenance Supervision program, the team discussed good and bad examples of communication from leadership. One particular example stood out as worth sharing, and we’d love to hear people’s thoughts on what we can learn from it.

Below, we’ve pasted an edited and partially anonymised transcript of the conversation, including the question from the facilitator, the participant’s response, and some follow-up comments.

Feel free to share your thoughts on what the Superintendent in this example should have done differently, and what we can all learn about how to communicate with our team as a Supervisor.


Steve Smith (Facilitator)

When you’ve worked for a supervisor, what things confronted you or stuck in your mind, making you think “If I ever had the opportunity, I wouldn’t do that.”

Does anyone want to talk to any experiences they’ve had like that?


Participant’s Response

I suppose I'll talk about the one I had. An email was sent to me by my Superintendent. I found it very personally insulting… basically the email went along the lines of “I found some of your work needs improvement, but don't worry, I'll solve it.”

That's the way I interpreted it. And it made me furious, is really the way to describe it. I responded by writing a massively long email explaining in exquisite detail why he was wrong.

Why it annoyed me was that he had cc’d in the world, including the entire senior management team.

I would have thought that if the situation was reversed, then a private conversation would have been the first step.

If I had my time over, one of the things that I thought about was that I was very conscious of looking bad in front of the whole management team, and I thought I had to set it straight right away, otherwise my reputation is going to be punished. And that was my fear.

I got so worked up by it, and I was so adamant in defending my honour, so to speak, that probably in hindsight, I could have responded a bit more calmly, and wrote a fairly short email, then maybe spoke privately.

I’ve been involved in toxic site cultures. We always used to say that that was the missing link was trust. 90% of the issues were down to a lack of trust.

When the Superintendent started, we were all in the room and he said, “Even if I think you're wrong, I'm here to support you.” And that was why my reaction was so angry. He said he was going to support us and then he stabbed me in the back a short time later, so that whole (lack of trust) was stuck in the back of my mind the whole time.


Steve Smith

It's the perennial problem in use of electronic communication. You have to be extremely careful with how it's used, and particularly how it's used when it involves an issue or correction.

Particularly seeing email should only be to provide positive feedback and information. There shouldn’t be accusations going on. First, it shouldn’t be via email. Second, it certainly shouldn’t involve copying other people.

A learning on how to improve interaction here, for sure.


Geoff Smith

Your thoughts are spot on. You don't want to get into an email war going backward and forward and particularly if every man and his dog is copied in.

And often, you’re a bit uncomfortable with challenging the supervisor, but taking it offline and having further controlled discussion is always good.


Dan Grimsey

I'm a big fan of always talking.  I think you can solve anything - anything that takes 5000 words to write back and forward, you can solve in 5 minutes of talking. So, I'm just a big fan of open verbal communication in any situation and just generally asking questions.

If you are concerned with something that the person had done or said, or one of your teammates had done, I would personally be asking them what's their reasoning and what's their thoughts to try and express a bit of empathy and understand where they're coming from. It helps me understand the decisions that they make.


Feel free to share your thoughts on what the Superintendent in this example should have done differently, and what we can all learn about how to communicate with our team as a Supervisor.


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