A client of mine — the executive director of a non-profit organization — wrote a letter last week to a corporate sponsor with whom she was having a disagreement.
The issue? The sponsor was paying for a brochure the non-profit was about to publish, but didn’t want the brochure to include any reference to a political issue in which the non-profit has an interest.
The non-profit was well within its legal limits on political activity. And the ED, though very angry, wrote an email to the sponsor that showed a great mastery of appropriate communication skills. She was non-blaming. She explained her side of the issue clearly. She expressed gratitude for the sponsor’s prior support and asked for a sit-down meeting to discuss the issue further.
In response, the sponsor wrote, “Thanks for sharing.”
There was more to the email, of course, but that first line was a big mistake. These days “Thanks for sharing,” no longer means, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me…I value your thoughts and opinions” It’s become a humorous, albeit sarcastic, response that’s a code for “I’m not really glad you shared that, but I’m not going to make a big deal about it.” I say, “Thanks for sharing,” for instance, when a child passes gas at the dinner table and is laughing so hard that I know asking for an “excuse me” is out of the question. Similarly I use the phrase if my husband reveals something not so flattering about my family of origin at a dinner party. I can’t think of any time I’ve used it in a professional situation because it’s no longer considered a sincere statement.
Granted, my client’s sponsor might have been sincere in this case. But she showed a startling lack of “social intelligence” by using a phrase that could easily be misread as sarcastic or passive aggressive — especially in an email.
Watch your word choice — especially in emails. If you have even the slightest feeling that your words might be misinterpreted, use language that is more clear. If you’re feeling angry — as I suspect this sponsor was — choose your words even more carefully. Your recipient may not call you on a passive aggressive tactic, but that doesn’t mean the recipient didn’t notice.