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I recently told a coworker on a different team in an email (with 10 people on CC as part of the conversation):

I expect you to talk to me regarding [issue], and not wait for things to happen. Please do so in the future.

I received feedback that this was taken badly. Is this poor etiquette in the workplace? Maybe it's because English isn't my native language, but I don't quite see what is wrong with this phrasing. Note that I do not manage this coworker.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 12 '16 at 21:39
  • To clarify: when you say: "I expect you to talk to me regarding [issue], and not wait for things to happen." Is that in reaction to something that has gone wrong and you want him to change his behaviour for future projects? Should it be "I would have expected your to talk to me before all these bad things happened." – Pieter B Jul 13 '16 at 12:32
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    An email is one thing, but an email conversation with 10 other people CC'd is entirely different - it's the difference between a private discussion and a public shaming. – Peteris Jul 13 '16 at 20:21
  • What would the message have been in your native language? – hkBst Jul 20 '16 at 7:18
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You've mentioned that you don't manage this guy. Your choice of using "I expect you to" rather than "I would like you to" or "It'd be better if you would" sounds very much like an order. But since you aren't his manager, you really can't order him around like that. Especially in front of other people.

Personal criticisms like that should always preferably be shared in 1 on 1 meetings or private email (read: without CCing 10 people) first. Your goal (I hope) isn't to embarrass your coworker, so don't needlessly do that.

For future reference, to avoid needless confrontations like this, try:

  • to address the issue in a 1 on 1 meeting or via non-CC email first
  • formulate it as a request instead of an order ("It would be better if ..." for instance)
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 12 '16 at 21:38
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    I personally like 'In the future, would you mind ____ing instead? It will make ____ a lot easier for both of us'. Filling in the blanks forces you to explain yourself and to frame it as a benefit to both of you. – Crisfole Jul 13 '16 at 12:19
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    @WoodrowBarlow More like a list of things OP could do in order to dimish the negative response. So ideally, he'd be doing both. Really I struggle to imagine a situation in which direct criticism of a coworker would be appropiate in front of 10 other people. – Magisch Jul 13 '16 at 15:40
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    I would say the main thing that made this inappropriate would be the CCing of the feedback to 10 other people. Feedback should be at most sent to the employee and their 1-up. Regardless the tone as said above could have been much better. In regards to the tone it would have been best to remove yourself from the feedback. Refrain from using "I" statements if you can; stick with "Can you? Would you?" etc. Otherwise it can sound like it's about you rather than the actual issue. – Rawrskyes Jul 14 '16 at 6:31
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    I feel the need here to emphasise 1 on 1... whether you manage someone or not, you should never make public the fact that you feel someone else has under-performed. That's terrible management/workplace etiquette (delete as appropriate depending on whether you're their manager) – Jon Story Jul 14 '16 at 15:20
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This would probably get better answers on https://english.stackexchange.com/

I expect you to talk to me regarding [...]

You're stating very clearly that they have to talk to you regarding [...] If you have the authority to do so, this is perfectly fine. You do not need to be the manager of someone in order to make statements like these. There are countless situations where you're allowed to expect others to do something. People don't say "could you pretty please attend my meeting?" if the meeting is mandatory.

Of course if you're asking them for a favor and phrase it "I expect", that's wrong. There is a difference between asking for a favor and stating an expectation. Using the same language for both creates trouble

... and not wait for things to happen

This is a veiled accusation that you assume they would "wait for things to happen" if left to their own. This can be interpreted as a reprimand.

Please do so in the future.

This strongly implies they did not "do so" in the past. I.e. they did not satisfy expectations, and they did wait for things to happen. In this context, this is a reprimand.


Conclusion: Unlike some others, I don't think "expect" is the core of the issue here. If you need someone to do something, don't say "I was hoping you will" or "It'd be better if you would", that only introduces harmful ambiguity - use these terms when you'd like them to do something but can't expect them to do it. In a professional environment, you can tell your coworkers if you expect them to do something, and they can answer that they will or won't do it. But if you reprimand your coworkers, as you did, you need to expect that some will take it badly. Especially so if you CC the reprimand to 10 people.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 14 '16 at 22:26
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The entire phrasing of this is very "dominant". It's establishing that your colleague has done something wrong, and that you are taking it upon yourself to tell him off.

I expect you to talk to me regarding [issue]

"I expect you to" establishes you as the authority figure. It moves the reason for him doing it away from "there is a good reason" to "because I say so". I would normally avoid this kind of implication unless the other party can't be trusted to respect the reason, even if you are in that position of authority, because it immediately puts the other party on the defensive.

and not wait for things to happen.

This is just a straight up criticism of how your colleague has behaved. It's also potentially very unfair, because they probably weren't "just waiting" for things to happen, they were doing something else of value, which you've dismissed as unimportant.

Please do so in the future.

This is redundant and very formal. The impression it gives is that you are "formally reprimanding" your colleague in public. That is unacceptable under almost any circumstances, because it can seriously humiliate that person. It also makes everything that comes before it worse in a sense, because by formalising it, you can't excuse the rest by blaming your annoyance.

A simple rephrasing might be:

Just so we don't get into this situation again, please talk to me regarding [issue] before you act on it, so I know what's going on.

Same ground, but it establishes your motivation for saying this, and thus seems more assertive, less aggressive.

Alternatively, drop the formality completely and go with.

At least let me know next time before you do this stuff!

Which minimises the impact because it's more casual, and feels less like an official reprimand.

EDIT: One user's pointed out that your original e-mail could be completely fine in some cultural contexts, and while I agree, I feel that my re-drafted response is just as clear and straight-forward, and is more likely to be acceptable in all cultural contexts.

8

One potential cause for the poor reception of your remarks - quite apart from "I expect you to" and "Please do so" which are both rather hectoring and apparently critical - is the use of the cc function to involve other people.

If you were unaware, cc is an abbreviation for "carbon copy": traditionally people who needed to know about the contents of a paper memo (pre e-mail, but the same connotation still exists) but were not necessarily expected to take part in the conversation, would receive a carbon copy of the original document rather than a typed original. Using cc to notify other people of an exchange says - especially given the wording of your e-mail - that you need them to know that your colleague is failing, needs to be reprimanded and that no fault attaches to you for this as he has failed to meet your expectations (despite the fact you are not his manager) and that you have now issued him with an ultimatum.

If my manager - let alone a colleague - had done that to me I would have been utterly livid and considered raising a formal complaint with the HR department and demanded - at the very least - either a retraction to the 10 people on the cc list or a clarification.

Language can be a tricky thing, but try to imagine someone sending an e-mail to you, copying in 10 of your co-workers, saying "you have seriously disappointed me, get off your backside and get things done rather than sitting around ignoring the situation. I expect you to comply with my instructions." Especially if it came not from your boss but from a colleague. It's a bit grim, isn't it?

Don't beat yourself up over it but perhaps find a trusted colleague with good language skills to be a proofreader before your send out mass-receipt e-mails again.

1

I'll address the culture aspect of things here. In my native language and culture we are much more direct than people are in English speaking countries (from what I hear, countries like Germany are similar). We don't use flowery language for asking for things. Our waiter may ask "What do you want?" instead of "What would you like?/What can I get you?"and in turn we say to our waiter "Give me a coffee" instead of "Good morning, could I please have a coffee. Thank you".

In most English speaking countries you cannot be as direct and when you are direct, it comes across as you are insinuating things. Furthermore, when you are asking people to do things you need to use "flowery" language. "Hi Mark, we need to get this done prior to this deadline so if you could ensure that's done I'd really appreciate it. Any troubles, let me know. Thanks again". If he is the kind of person who leaves things to the last minute, the culture here generally speaking requires that this is addressed privately with the person, and if unsuccessful, then with their manager.

  • +1 The only answer here which addresses the culture difference, as against, rather disappointingly but not unexpectedly, all the other "we know English, we know-it-all" type answers and comments. – Masked Man Jul 13 '16 at 16:59
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    @MaskedMan of course culture and context are very important, but from what the OP says, there were complaints about their message, which suggests to me that they are at least partially operating in a culture where very direct language is considered rude. This fact probably influenced the answers of the people you describe as know-it-alls. – Rob Moir Jul 13 '16 at 18:39
  • @RobM Yeah, but the OP is clearly concerned that the poor communication could be the result of English not being his native language (implying or at least suggesting that his language doesn't consider such direct conversation rude). Some of the highly upvoted answers here ignore that entirely and go straight to scolding the OP for "ordering" his co-worker. It is clear from the OP's post that he wasn't ordering anyone, but some know-it-all decides that he was based on one culture. – Masked Man Jul 14 '16 at 18:18
  • @RobM Also, a now moved comment declared that they were highly skeptical that the OP's native language made any difference, thus shutting off the possibility that the OP's statement was born out of a cultural difference. You see, "that statement wouldn't be considered not rude in any language", was not a very nice thing to say. – Masked Man Jul 14 '16 at 18:21
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As mentioned above, the first part sounds like you're ordering your co-worker to do something, even though you are not in a senior / manager position to him.

The other issue for me, is with "and not wait for things to happen". It sounds very passive-aggressive, especially in a large conversation, and would be better to turn it around and say what he SHOULD do instead of what he SHOULD NOT do. Say "and have a more pro-active approach", which is less negative loaded, while still getting the point across.

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The only situation that comes to mind, where the message that you sent may be appropriate, is if you decided to make a stand.

For example, the team member did something wrong, and sneakily tried to put the blaim for the resulting faillure on you.

In this case it could be very strong (yet of course still a bit rude) reply to tell him that you expect him to do his job properly (which is basically what you are saying). If this directly and obviously makes clear that it was his fault, rather than yours that caused the problem, you can put him in your place and show that it should be him apologizing according to you.

NOTE: I do not say that this is typically how you should respond if he did something wrong, but I am just saying that your message is, and should only be used as, a retaliation.

Even if your message makes it very clear it is unlikely that he will feel the urge to apologize, so seriously consider whether you would want to use this 'weapon'.

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