8 for 8: Business is personal — always  


This is not your typical story about an accidental reply-all email sent company wide. In contrast, this week’s lesson reflects on a very intentional reply-all email. For me, several thousand keystrokes and a single mouse click led to regret, fear, and finally acceptance that business — despite widespread perception — is always personal.

In the early days of my career one of the biggest barriers to my success was an inability — almost an unwillingness — to accept my youth and inexperience. In other words, as the saying goes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My lack of awareness contributed to a significant bias toward false perceptions coupled with broad-sweeping generalizations; a lethal combination.

About a year and a half into my first job, my ignorance led me to reply all to an email announcing a new PR campaign for a client. At the time I perceived the effort as nothing more than a cheap stunt and took it upon myself to share the seasoned wisdom of a recent college graduate (sarcasm implied). My email also conveyed an unfortunate tone that managed to implicate the email’s sender — a senior-level director with more than a decade of PR experience — for a lack of judgment and ethics. The situation unraveled rapidly and ultimately led to one of the most teachable moments of my career.

My impulsive and inappropriate email relied far too much on an incomplete understanding of the situation and made far too many assumptions to fill in the blanks. Years later, that email and its unintended consequences continue to serve as humbling reminders about remembering to consider others’ experience:

  1. Assume nothing about a person’s actions
  2. If a follow up feels warranted, speak directly with the individual
  3. Prepare well-reasoned questions first and only provide feedback with permission
  4. Choose dialogue over debate
  5. Try to build upon — not diminish — the original idea subject to question

Today I remember that people’s work often represents an expression of their values, passion, and character. Work is business and it’s always personal.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Chip says:

    So, what happened as a result of the “reply all,” aside from the humility?

    1. Lost credibility and polarized myself from some people. I eventually allowed my work to help rebuild trust and confidence with others. I was also fortunate to receive support from advocates who helped me rebound from my poor judgment.

  2. Chip says:

    Thanks. Nice piece.

  3. Michael R. Murphy says:

    This is a great series David. I’m enjoying it. I like that you’re willing to be vulnerable and help others learn from your mistakes. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your kind words and support. Your enthusiasm for WordPress and our discussions around content were huge influences in kicking off Common Wealth. Thanks again!

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