In the modern world we spend significant time communicating electronically sometimes we text, Snapchat, BBM, email, etc. Connecting with colleagues, friends, and family has become much more expedient through these mediums. When it comes to the workplace, the rules for communicating are different. The cute emoticons and acronyms that work so well in our social life are not going to fly in the office. So, read on to become email etiquette savvy.

Don't use CAPITAL letters. Capital letters are the text version of yelling; they are offensive and create defensiveness. If you are intending to reprimand or discipline a subordinate, have this conversation in person. If you are simply attempting to get your message across use other techniques like bolding important dates or asking for an acknowledgement or response to your message. This will keep the tone respectful and productive.

Do use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Make sure you are capitalizing and punctuating appropriately. Not only does it show that you are intelligent, it shows you care. Email lacks tone and inflection, and when punctuation is missing, meaning becomes open to interpretation. Save yourself the hassle of looking incompetent and having to explain yourself by doing it right the first time. On that note, always spell the recipient's name correctly. If necessary, go out of your way to determine the correct spelling. In most cases you have the correct spelling in a previous email signature block and sometimes in the email address itself. For those of us whose names have unique spelling, it shows a level of respect and caring that is often overlooked in this hectic world.

Don't assume any level of privacy. The reality is that emails are the property of your organization. Don't send anything you wish to remain confidential, including pictures. Most organizations have policies that allow them to randomly search employee emails, sometimes without warning. Before sending anything private, ask yourself if you would be comfortable with others reading the content. If not, don't send it.

Do keep emails concise and brief. What happens when you receive a long drawn out email? We scan it, often missing important details. Many of us receive hundreds of emails in a day and we automatically filter those we perceive to be important. A short and concise email is much more likely to get the attention it requires. Using bullet points or lists will assist in conveying your message much better than a novel.

Don't hit 'reply all' without looking at the addressee list. Everyone has made the mistake of pushing 'reply all' on an email that should never have left your inbox in the first place. Whether the email has an angry tone or just isn't relevant to all, don't fall victim to this mistake. Once an email has been sent it cannot be retracted. It's out there and you will have to deal with the consequences. We are inundated with messages daily and receiving irrelevant or nasty emails may tick off your colleagues.

Don't use slang or jargon. Sure, ttyl and brb are cute and efficient ways of communicating with your friends and family, but they are not appropriate for professional use. Always spell out your message to prevent confusion as well as being perceived as immature or unprofessional. Keep this rule in mind when using emoticons. Sometimes a smile can be useful in creating tone, but don't go overboard with complicated emoticons, use them sparingly.

Do use the subject field in your messages. There is nothing quite like scouring your inbox for the message your colleague sent you last week... with no subject line. The subject line tells the recipient what to expect in the email and allows for easier retrieval in the future. Make sure your subject line is reflective of the content; it's going to be difficult to find an email about project deadlines when the subject line is 'To all my peeps...'

Of course, there are many things to consider when composing an email, keep these tips in mind and you'll be on the right track.


- Meaghan


For some it is an adrenaline rush filled with purpose and excitement. For a select few it's effortless and easy. For others, it's that moment when you suddenly become aware of your own breathing, when your heart starts beating so fast that you feel like your chest will explode. It's the tingling feeling of pins and needles as you start to lose blood from your hands and feet. Or, it's the hard lump in the back of your throat as you try to swallow. Everyone at some point in their lives will be asked to be a leader. Whether it is leading a group discussion or assuming a management role, we will all be called upon to assume a position of influence over others. For some it is a comfortable process but for others it is a fear provoking challenge. Regardless of how we feel, we will all be called to the task. Therefore, it is essential for all people to learn effective ways to prepare themselves to lead.

I spent years as a front line worker operating in low profile leadership roles; running meetings, leading group discussions and at times facilitating workshops, but I will never forget my angst when I started my first job as a new manager. I awoke two hours early and I hummed and hawed over what to casual, formal dress, hair up or down? I questioned myself… did I learn as much as I could about the organization? Will the staff like me? How early is too early? Can I really do this...?

I rushed out the door, heals clicking with each step. I did a few deep breathing exercises in the car and I finally arrived at the office. Luckily, I was greeted with lots of smiling faces and endless introductions. I was left alone to settle into my new office, policy and procedure manual at hand... God how I wished there was an instruction manual on how to "lead the charge". I started reading the manual and awaited my "formal" training to begin. Instead, I was met with a light knocking at my door. My direct manager provided me with a brief synopsis, explaining that the person who was meant to train me had taken a new job and instead of a two week turn over, I would only be getting a half day. My internal dialogue was screaming “What? Really?” A rush of panic surged inside of me but I covered it up with an assertive competent smile and said "Sure, no problem! I will figure things out".

I completed my half day training which consisted of a brief tutorial on where to find files and how to submit the payroll. Instead of feeling like the blind leading the blind, I start to feel a little bit more like the blind leading the much more informed than me. At this point I realize I would be navigating through the darkness of how to effectively lead in my new position.

The beginning weeks of my job were met with a plethora of challenges. I was tasked with learning my job, my employee’s jobs, and all the intricate nuances of the program and all the committee meetings in-between. Then it happened, that dreadful headache that no manager needs, let alone a new manager...interpersonal conflict and insubordination.

During a shift with all the staff present I made a request to one of the supervisors. Without turning his body to speak to me, he replied, "I will get to it when I can get to it". In an attempt to de-escalate a power struggle, I respectfully said his name and requested that he prioritize the task and have it done by the end of the day. He continued to sit with his back to me and repeated his previous statement but this time with a condescending undertone. My first mistake, amongst many, was allowing the other staff to watch the train wreck unfold. I could write a whole novel on this experience alone but I will spare you all the nitty gritty details and sum it up by saying that the cohesiveness of my staff team began to unravel with me as their manager.

I always considered my leadership style to be collaborative but regardless of how hard I tired, I could not find a win-win solution. At least not without a little bit of help! I consulted a conflict coach and she was able to assist me in identifying the core issues. Through coaching, I was able to put my own ego aside and identified my barriers. I realized that I needed to become more knowledgeable about my employee’s roles and duties. I attended to my staffs concerns without sacrificing or suppressing my own needs and objectives as their manager. This opened the door to communication and eventually resolution.

Sometimes the invisible barrier that stands between us and our potential is ourselves. Leadership is rewarding and it comes with an array of challenges. Often time’s people are asked to manage with little resources, a lack of information/training and organizational politics and cultures to boot. My personal experience challenged me but the end result molded me into an effective leader with strong staff alliances. In conflict management a mediator helps individuals get from opposing positions to a place of mutual interests. Effective leadership is similar as an individual influences a group of people to achieve a common goal. My experience was fraught with both headaches and heartaches but conflict coaching provided me with a light that lead to my eventual success. I no longer stand in the way of me and my potential. The sky is the limit for all of us. We just need access to the skills, tools and information to show us the way.

For more information on how to navigate the challenges of leadership see our services or check out our events page for upcoming workshops.


About the Author:


Angela Anthony has over ten years of experience working with both clinical and forensic populations. She has worked in community mental health, adult and youth justice, as well as victim services. Her work in the private and public sector has led her to work with a variety of social service agencies addressing multiple client issues.


Navigating the Toxic Workplace

By Françoise Mathieu, Compassion Fatigue Specialist


At some point, I stopped going to the staff lunchroom.

I started eating at my desk instead, staring at my computer, trying to finish reports over the lunch hour, maybe surfing the web for new shoes or reading about the latest celebrity scandal… Truth is, I was avoiding my co-workers. The workload in my office had recently dramatically increased, stress was high and the pay was low. People were angry and frustrated, and would often use the lunch hour as an opportunity to gripe about our boss, vent about the flawed system and complain about pretty much anything else. A friend of mine called this the “BMWs” of work: bitching, moaning and whining.  At first, it provided some short-term relief - it was nice to feel that I wasn’t alone in my anger at what was becoming an unsustainable situation. However, after a while, I started wondering whether this was moving us anywhere constructive. In my workshops, I jokingly refer to the BMWs as a fake workout: regularly complaining about work without moving to any advocacy for change is a bit like eating a bag of chips while watching an exercise video…We have the illusion that we are working on the problem, but in truth, nothing positive is taking place.
Recent research in the fields of burnout and compassion fatigue have indicated that some of the key elements of a healthy workplace are working in well defined teams, good quality supervision and social support. (Killian, 2008)  Unfortunately, over time, work overload and poor communication can not only lead to gossip and negativity among teams, it can also lead to internal strife among staff and destroy team spirit: jealousy, backbiting, the creation of cliques, even sabotage can occur when staff are drowning in work and feel unheard and criticized. I am sure you see the irony at play: the most important protective features of a healthy workplace, social support and healthy teams, are being suffocated by workplace negativity and conflict. How can we work our way out of this mess?

What can you do? 

If you are a staff member, you need to start by identifying what is within your control and what isn’t: You may not be able to change a policy around workload (although it’s not a bad idea to constructively advocate for change), but you can choose who you spend time with. Almost every workplace has one or two very burned out staff members. (I sometimes call them the “old crusties” even if they are young) – the ones who are extremely bitter and angry, and who encourage negative talk and BMW in the workplace. Although you may want to reach out to them, to offer support (because in truth, these people are suffering), you may also wish to focus on spending time with less burned-out members of staff. Pick two or three more positive folks, and agree to spend time on topics other than office gossip.

Create some supervision for yourself: When you need a debrief or some advice, is your supervisor someone who is available and open or someone you don’t feel comfortable talking to? If you are not getting what you need, consider finding your own sounding board: find a mentor or another colleague who is interested in creating a positive space and bouncing ideas. At some point in my career, I gladly paid a therapist in private practice to provide me with the clinical supervision that I badly needed and wasn’t getting at work – the benefits to my mental health far outweighed the cost.

Take a breather: If the climate at work is getting to you, consider leaving the building at lunch – go for a walk, bring a novel to read in the food court or in the park, just make sure to get away to regroup.

Weigh your options: Some people are far less affected by the workplace climate than others – they seem to be able to put their heads down, and get their work done, no matter what is swirling around them. If that is not your case, and the negativity at work is seriously impacting you, or you have a direct personality conflict with a colleague, consider calling in some help: consult with your Employee Assistance Provider (EAP), find out whether you have access to mediation or dispute resolution, talk to your union.

Sometimes, the problem can be resolved and you can learn new tools to better manage the challenges and climate of your workplace. Other times, you may seriously need to explore the possibility of moving on to another job. This can be a frightening move, understandably. We spend an average of 90 000 hours at work over a lifetime. Shouldn’t that time be fiercely protected from constant toxicity?



Mathieu, F. (2012) The Compassion Fatigue Workbook. New York: Routledge.

Killian, K. (2008) Helping till it hurts? in Traumatology, Vol 14, No 2, June 2008.


The author:
Françoise Mathieu, M. Ed., CCC., is a certified mental health counsellor and compassion fatigue specialist. She is the director of Compassion Fatigue Solutions, a consulting firm which specializes in topics related to workplace burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary trauma and organizational health.


(WE) Women in Enterprise series:

Stress Management


Course Outcomes:

  • Understand the basic principles of stress management
  • Navigate personal and professional stressors
  • Identify and Manage Triggers
  • Create a balance between work and personal life
  • Learn to manage stress through self care

Date and Location

Cataraqui Creek Outdoor Centre - Kingston: July 23, 2014 (9:30 – 4:30)

Cost: $250 + HST / Person

Price includes Lunch, coffee and healthy snacks. 

For more information or to Register e-mail:

For the sake of cost-cutting, many employers are now reducing the number of sick days employees are allowed.  While I understand our countries fiscal stresses, I wonder if we're asking the right questions.  As a conflict engagement specialist I come across clients who are taking sick leave in order to avoid the inevitable run in with their cranky boss or obnoxious co-worker.  So, the million dollar question is... Is it legitimate for employees to take time off from work when struggling with a conflict?  In my humble opinion the answer is yes and no.  

When in a conflict situation it is often necessary to take time to think about the situation, reflect on your contribution and develop a plan to address it.  Perhaps you are home from work to make a list of what's important to you regarding the conflict and how best to deal with it.  Maybe you are formulating questions that will help you to better understand the other person.  Or maybe you are watching reruns of Beverly Hills 90210 and scarfing down microwave popcorn, one bag after the other.  If you are engaging in the latter, you should probably be at work!

Studies show that Americans (we can assume a similar stats for us Canucks), spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, (   If you do the math you will see that those 2.8 hours add up to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Those 2.8 hours could be better spent doing the work they are paid to do.

If an employer reduces the sick leave allowances for their employees, those much needed 'mental health days' (disguised as sick days) will contribute to the increase in time spent at work engaging in destructive conflict.  Absenteeism will be on the rise and perhaps most important to consider is the prevalence of presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the concept of being physically at work but not cognitively present.  Maybe you are distracted by the conflict, maybe the situation is overwhelming and causing you to neglect important tasks and miss deadlines.  

Bottom line: If we reduce the number of sick days employees receive, they are more likely to spend their time at work stressing about the conflict, thus decreasing their productivity, and likely that of those around them.

And for all you die-hard 90210 fans, they are reruns, they'll still be there when you get home from work! 

I would love to hear from you...What are your thoughts on decreasing employee sick days?