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Chris Powell Posts

Pivoting the E-Mail Process

Merlin Mann, talking about his experience with e-mail on 5×5’s Home Work podcast.

“I wake up every morning to reenter my iCloud password to find out who’s disappointed in me.”

Is this how e-mail has evolved for some of us? What used to be an exciting experience, to receive a message delivered electronically to our desktop computer terminals, has now become a chore met with dread or anxiety?

E-mail is a necessary part of our professional lives, and for some it’s met with curiosity and anticipation. Project coordination updates from supervisors, co-workers requesting input for their assignments, notifications about upcoming meetings. Helpful and productive. I’m betting there are a great number of professionals like me, working in a service-oriented industry like IT support, who are suffering from an Outlook inbox strewn with rude, urgent-only-to-the-sender messages demanding errors be fixed or software be installed immediately. Callous blurbs of redirected stress devoid of any emotion, fired off on a mobile device with an impersonal “Best,” or “sent with my iPhone” at the end. Somewhere along the way, some of us learned that if we stamp our foot, pound our fist on the table, and shout aggressively at others, we eventually get our way. I believe you will see similar behavior on display in the primate cage at your local zoo. Or at a toddler daycare.

We can set an example with how we communicate. We can keep in mind that the person on the other end of the e-mail is as human being with a busy workload and their own stress. We can address our needs in a concise manner. We can ask for a reasonable timeline. Most importantly, we can say thank you and mean it.

The person you’re contacting will get the message loud and clear.

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Behind the Scenes

Not sure if this is a famous story or not, but I’d like to share a wonderfully-visual scene by a fellow named John Ortberg. You can click on it to make the text larger:

Keeper of the Stream


Pretty inspiring, no? In discussing this story, Ortberg comments that we should:

…give thanks for unseen work. The stream stays alive only when it has gratitude for unseen work.

My career involves a great deal of work done behind the scenes. Tasks that will never make headlines in the newspaper, nor will get me my own reality show. It’s often a thankless job since most people don’t understand what I do. But that’s okay; my personality is not one to seek the spotlight. I enjoy being in the background. But every time someone sends some praise my way, it makes me feel good and I take notice.

I submit to you, dear reader, that we should look for people around us who work behind the scenes. Those who are rarely noticed. Those who don’t receive appreciation for their efforts. The custodian who cleans our office workplace or our children’s school. The person taking our money and handing us our food in the drive-thru lane. The bus driver quietly chauffeuring us to our destination. The young person bagging groceries for us. You’ll see more in your daily walk. Take notice. Observe how quietly and unassuming they are doing their job. Then watch their facial expression change as you deliberately, genuinely thank them for their help or ask them how they’re doing and actually wait for their answer. Any kind of attention sent their way to show them that these people matter as a person.

May we all surprise people with the good kind of attention. The good kind of thanks. The kind we deserve.

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Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a fellow named Rich Warriner speak about relationships. When he shared the following statement, I had to whip out my phone and jot it down for future thought:

When I put on a mask, the only thing that gets loved is the mask.

Growing up, I learned it wasn’t safe to show people who I genuinely was. Kids in school were (and still are) really mean to each other. Co-workers will take information you share about yourself and leverage it to their advantage. Worst of all, family and friends, those know you the best, know just the right buttons to push to get their needs met.

In order to survive, I put on many masks to cope with life. I put on a mask of an aloof loner. A wisecracking comedian. A roadraging bully. A sophisticated conversationalist. An emotional manipulator. An overt gentleman. Worst of all, I wore the mask of liar.

Those that decided to love me only were seeing the mask that I wore at that time. Not who I actually was: a shy, nervous boy who only wanted to play and have fun with others. Someone who wanted to be genuinely happy.


There’s no moral for you to learn from. No bullet list of ways to change how you are. I just wanted to share an impactful sentence that got me thinking about how I portray myself to the world, who I am inside, and which masks I want to discard. Maybe you’ll have some time to take a look at your mask collection and see what you’re still wearing. I wish you the best.



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A Different Work Experience Than Most

Every now and then you encounter someone who communicates exactly what you’re thinking or feeling. It’s unexpectedly refreshing. It’s somewhat empowering because you feel like you’re not alone in your situation; someone actually “gets” you. Most importantly it’s relieving, because now you don’t have to carry the burden solely on your shoulders.

In my case, I discovered an article written by an anonymous author overseas. They nailed it. It was almost as if my water-logged heavy blanket was lifted and replaced with a warm fleece pullover; light, but protective. Someone in this world is also contending with loneliness at work. It is an impactful read. An excerpt:

Workplace loneliness is a real problem, one which is being increasingly recognised, but it’s one we don’t want to talk about – who wants to be the person who opens themselves up to derision by announcing their feeling of isolation to their colleagues?

That is the difficult question to answer. How does one contend with the absence of connections at the workplace, yet not alienate or ostracize oneself from those in the office? It’s a complex balancing act, especially when you’re an introvert. I have two trusted colleagues in the large organization where I work, but they’re employed in different divisions. The connections we gain from collaborating on projects and the shared “we’re in this struggle together” experience with are there, but are infrequent.

The risk one takes by announcing that they are lonesome at work is significant. I’ve been weighing this decision for quite some time before deciding to hit the publish button on this post. But if there are others out there that view this, read the article linked above, and have similar feelings, then we can at least have a shared experience.

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