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Don’t be that guy: Pause before you hit reply

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BY TOM KEER
About a year ago I woke up really early every morning for a week. I was looking for an editor’s response to an outstanding query. I had perhaps over-communicated via phone, text and email, but had heard nothing in response. I was considering smoke signals next, followed by passenger pigeon. I was unusually anxious about this pitch. The topic was timely and relevant. It had all the  ingredients for making great copy — conservation, politics and tensions between colliding stakeholders. I was one of only a few writers with access to this information and I wanted to break the story, not read a water-downed version with someone else’s byline.
I discussed the topic with the editor several times. He understood the magnitude of the story and the size and scope of the project. We discussed deadlines, artwork and accompanying video,  compensation and rights. Then suddenly all communication ceased.
Time was slipping away and despite half a dozen additional gentle prompts I heard nothing. No email, no text, no phone call. Crickets. Seeing no response at 4:30 a.m. a week after our last communication, I decided I should come in low and hot and light him up for lack of professionalism. And so I did what all angry writers do. I wrote an email that would scorch the earth. I ripped off a few hundred words in minutes, left it on my screen and went to the kitchen to fetch another cup of coffee.
I returned to the computer, re-read the letter and smiled. This will show him, I thought. It would also vindicate me from the past. I would wash away the sins of all the other editors, managers,  associates and the like who required me to go far, far beyond the normal working requirements of a freelancer. I would purge the pent up sentiments that came from their late communiqués, lack of communiqués and false communiqués that required me to rewrite or miss other assignments. I thought “your lack of planning does not create my emergency.” I coiled my hand like a Cobra and prepared to strike the send button. I launched my hand forward with such force that I knocked over my coffee.
I was about to become that guy. You know, the one who airs his dirty laundry in public. The one who has lost ability to properly, proactively and politely correspond. I was about to communicate in an unprofessional, improper, reactive and fundamentally rude manner.
I paused and instead of hitting send I started a new draft, a polite, but to-the-point email saying if I didn’t hear from him by the close of business on Friday, I’d begin shopping the piece to other venues.
That got his attention — and me a response.
One of our many goals as professional communicators is to raise the bar in all types of communication. It’s part of our job to remain professional in all points of conduct. Period. We should  negotiate fairly, represent work ethically and originally, and strive for integrity even if other people are behaving poorly.
There is no new material in here, these words have been echoed for centuries. But in this growing age that includes a tremendous failure to communicate I believe it needs restating.
When you find yourself getting hot under the collar, the worst course of action is to rip off an even hotter digital response. Hit the speed bag, go for a run, do anything that relaxes you besides writing a hostile response. Email Kung Fu may feel good for the short term, but it’s a career burner over the long haul. Temper your comments, stick to a neutral tone and deliver the facts. After you’ve done so, move on. With all likelihood there are several other outlets that would be interested in your piece, but you will never find them if you’re spinning your wheels sweating the non-responsive group.
I did not hit send that morning, but I did hit print. I have that note hanging in my office. It reminds me that words are like arrows. They should not be shot at random. When I get steamed at the lack of professionalism and sit down to write a ripper, I take a deep breath and remember the three B’s of speech giving: Be brief, be brilliant and be gone.
Then I get back to work. ♦
—Tom Keer is an award-winning writer, columnist and blogger who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for Covey Rise magazine, Upland Almanac, and Woodcock Limited and is a contributing editor for Fly Rod & Reel and Fly Fish America. He’s a spokesman and blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer writes regularly for more than a dozen outdoor magazines and owns The Keer Group, a full-service, outdoor marketing company. www.thekeergroup.com or at www.tomkeer.com.
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