Email as a Reflective Practice: Thoughtful Writing to Spark Conversation

Having a Reflective Practice means finding a deliberate way to stop and think. It’s a ritual you do regularly to pause, consider, and learn. So, can email be a good medium on which to build a reflective practice? Stop laughing.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
~ Peter Drucker

Now of course, I hate most email as much as the next guy. But after years of having large and geographically dispersed teams, I have found that email can be transformed into a useful tool for reflection and creating deeper connection with my team.

A Few Examples

Weekly Reflections

One tool I often used is a weekly reflection email. I ask the team to reflect on a few key questions..and send me a note each Friday. I always start with these 3, and then sometimes mix in an extra bonus question depending on what is happening in the business.

I am most proud of…

I am concerned about…

I need your help with…

To be frank… not everyone loves this (and I make it optional). But usually the people who resist it the most are the ones who reap the most benefit. I have used this technique for years, across some very diverse contexts and people. Of course, this is not a substitute for regular face to face connection, but can offer a nice supplement.

For some, this is a way to share some good news without seeming boastful. Others seem to feel safer putting something in writing, rather than surfacing tough issues in person or on the phone. I have been surprised about how some heavy professional and personal concerns have come up in these emails throughout the years. When they do, I always write back and ask if we can talk live. The answer has always been yes… and the conversation is rich.

 Mid Year, End of Year Letters

As part of the mid year appraisal and check in process, in addition to the normal fare, I ask each member of my team to write me a letter as if it were the end of the year.

Yikes… this has been the best year of my career…

I am so proud that…

My team accomplished…

I learned so much about…

I will never do ___ again.

I find people typically bring a good bit of humor to this exercise, and also dream BIG about their accomplishments (many mention a promotion). I also find that they include personal dreams and aspirations as well. The humor creates a fun and light opening to the meeting that follows. But after we laugh, we talk about how it’s not really that crazy, and talk about how they can accomplish those big goals.

Of course, I bring the letter out again in the end of year discussion (earlier as appropriate), and it is great to see how much they have accomplished. If their vision has not been fully accomplished, we build it into the plans again for the next year.