Bad Emails, Phone Anxiety, and Other Workplace Hazards: 11 Creatives on How to Cope (Pt. 1)
Nada Alic / WNW Member
I have yet to memorize my boyfriend’s phone number and I regularly forget why I just walked into a room, but I can recall, with alarming accuracy, the content of every bad email I’ve ever received. And by bad, I mean a work email containing some perceived slight, some miscommunication, or passive aggressive tone. In the grand scheme of things, these emails have no real world consequence, nor were they remembered as anything of significance by the sender, but still they remain burned in my memory forever. Occasionally, these emails will emerge from my consciousness, seemingly at random, performed in my mind like a one-woman show no one asked for.
As creatives, we are constantly navigating a minefield of distractions and slight upsets—those little moments throughout your day that completely throw you off, linger in your mind, and affect your ability to be creative and present. Sure, they’re not full blown disasters but they still have the power to ruin your day if you let them. From the banal: someone takes your parking spot, someone wants you to join a conference call, someone in that conference call just repeated what you said in a louder tone and everyone else thought it was their idea, etc. To the worst offender: someone left you a voicemail...after several missed calls...on a Friday. If your job requires you to engage with others, these potentially unpleasant interactions are inevitable. It’s a paradox for many creative professionals; that ability to occupy two opposing modes: creativity and professionalism. The creative wants to be open-hearted, they want to play and explore beauty and emotion in order to create something new, and they want to tell a story or design new worlds to better understand themselves. But the professional needs to be stoic, unmoored by the daily onslaught of demands from others, and even-keeled in the face of stress or perceived unfairness.
I spoke to several creatives on their strategies for not sweating the small stuff while confronting people and situations that would have otherwise derailed their day entirely. What I found was that it really comes down to checking in with yourself and how you’re feeling, giving yourself a moment to breathe and reflect, and setting up boundaries to minimize or even eliminate some of this stuff from ever happening.
There is so much to cover on this that we split it into two parts. In Part One we explore technology and human interactions, two things that don’t always mix well together. Stay tuned for Part Two where we dive into other fun topics like client relations, social media, and those moments where there’s nothing left to give!
You have a bad or unpleasant interaction with someone on email, maybe you felt misunderstood, slighted or rejected. How do you cope?
Take a deep breath and give it some time. I usually cool down pretty quickly and have realized it's best not to respond when I'm red hot. No email is THAT urgent (or at least most aren't) but they seem urgent, especially if you're triggered emotionally and want to have your voice heard or get your zinger in. By waiting I'm able to cool off and more clearly able to see their intent (often times it's not as malicious as I initially received it), OR I'm able to cool off and articulate my point in a way they'll be better able to receive. Either way, waiting's the call. - Kenny, filmmaker
This happens to me practically daily. Most often I find it to be the case with pitching personal projects. It can be a serious struggle to be in the field you love as a career — without often getting to actually show your own point of view. I know I can be defensive (I literally just sent out an email that proves this), but I also think it's important to stand up to others you might feel aren't "getting" you or may have overlooked something you feel is important. So, more often that not I'll fire back to either inquire about why they might not like something I've suggested, or to double down on it! I can think of at least one case where this actually worked. - Ashley, writer
In 2018, I made an effort to earn more money than I had in previous years by moving to the producing side of commercial media. In 2019, I’ve resolved to never fucking do that again. The unpleasant email interactions, slights, and misunderstandings have ceased and I am much the happier (however broker) for it. - Nick, writer & director
It’s usually that they don’t reply after I have responded to an email. Typically it’ll be about rate. I’ve changed my responses over time, but it it still happens often. It sticks with me for a day or two depending on the size of the job, but like all things you must move on & leave it behind. Chasing things is never good. - Stephen, photographer
Definitely. A popular illustrator blocked me from joining a group project she initiated after I had created a lot of work for it. I tried to confront the issue as politely as possible, but our exchange got pretty uncomfortable. I finally dropped it and decided to never reach out or work with her in the future. - Gaby, illustrator
Do something that will help you get out of your head. Step away from the computer. Walk around your apartment. Get some fresh air. Take a yoga class or go exercise. Try to remember that most things in life aren't personal -- and that whoever sent that email probably was just having a bad day. 99% of the time it has absolutely nothing to do with you. - Sara, writer
I’ve had a few rare instances with bad clients, the kind of people who make any situation worse, and I just try my best to communicate how I feel and how I think we can solve the problem. Sometimes I encounter people who are more interested in drama rather than solving a problem in which case I walk away and don’t ever work with them again. - Elena, photographer
I try to clarify the part that I feel may have been misunderstood. I try not to see rejection as personal but rather not being a good fit for the client and for myself. I'm always more than happy to refer them to other people who may be a better fit. Reminding myself that the client is trying to do their job, not going around offending artists (hopefully). - Carmen, photographer
I think this is pretty hard to cope with because emails are full of nuances and you can't really tell what the person's expression or intention is only through text. I try to remind myself that it's work and that I am probably reading too much into what the person is saying. I think my main method is to take a step back and remember that I am probably putting more of my own negativity into it than the other person is. - Carmela, illustrator
You’re on a pointless conference call. How do you get through it?
It can be easy to want to check your phone, but I actually find if I really pay attention to what people are saying rather than zoning out, I can actually find something constructive to say or find something to think about afterwards at least. - Randi
Mute button, TV on. - Ashley
With grace and aplomb, compliment the biggest wigs of all on their valuable input and try and end the call as swiftly as possible. - Nick
Write emails with my headphones in & throw in an occasional “yeah.” - Stephen
Stay focused and pay attention to everyone on the conference call; it’s everyone’s time together and the more present we are the faster it can end by getting to all the topics that need to be covered and then thanking everyone on the call. - Elena
Someone wants to talk to you on the phone, but you hate the phone; it makes you anxious. What do you do?
Depends; if it's a PR, I just say I'm busy for the next little bit but to jot down their notes and we can jump on a call afterwards (usually makes it go away). If it's someone else, I will likely just suck it up and try to find some benefit in the call. Make notes while you're talking! - Randi
If it's a work thing, I nearly always suggest an email. I'll let them know it's an ideal way for both of us to gather our thoughts and provide a better result. You can also highlight the fact that it's probably more flexible for their (and your) busy schedule. - Ashley
I truly do hate the phone. I started using headphones so I could do other things with my hands while on a call. Helps with the anxiety of it all - Stephen
I just try to push through it. It's something I have to do pretty regularly so I try to actively listen instead of thinking of the next thing I'm going to say — that sometimes alleviates my nerves. - Gaby
The only anxiety I have with phone calls is when a new client emails me and simply says they’d like to discuss an idea over the phone. I’d rather get some details about a project over email, research and think about it, then jump on a call. Also if you have anxiety about calls I think you should go for it, to help the anxiety of course: keep doing things that are slightly uncomfortable and you’ll see it’s really not that big of a deal. - Elena
I AM anxious on the phone. I actually refuse to answer my phone if I don’t have a scheduled call, unless it’s my mom. I’ve trained the clients I work with to email or text me first and say, “Can we chat at 11?” And then I’ll reply with, “Sure, that works for me. I will call YOU then.” I don’t use the capital letters in the real text, but that’s how I hope it sounds to them on the other end. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Boundaries are so fucking important. - Erin
It 100% makes me anxious! I will speak on the phone because I think it's important to have that personal connection if the client wants to. I usually take a deep breath and accept that it's part of my job. But I usually ask to continue via email so that I have everything written down and that makes it a bit easier. - Carmela
You agreed to a professional lunch/coffee but when the moment comes, you really don’t want to do it. How do you deal?
I don’t flake. Don’t make appointments you don’t want to keep. - Nick
I’m guilty of canceling things last minute. It’s an awful thing to do and sometimes it works out for the other person so I’d say just check in, ask if another day would work for that person, and if not you should be professional and meet up. - Elena
If it's 12 hours or more away, CANCEL. - Randi
Half the time I'll just go — and about 100% of that half time I'm glad I did. But if it's an absolute NO and you need a mental health day, just say you've got way too much going on and try to reschedule. - Ashley
Nada Alic is a Los Angeles-based editor, writer and content strategist with 9 years of professional experience. Currently, she's working on a collection of fiction. Previously, Nada was the Editorial Director for e-comm arts platform Society6. Before that, she was agency-side, managing editorial for Gap Inc. properties. She also built Etsy's first Canadian HQ, and has had work featured in VICE, Nasty Gal, Ephemera Mag, Time Out LA, Cool Hunting, and People of Print.
Artwork by Martina Paukova