Had a bad day?

As professional communicators, we often focus on our role as a sender of messages – which implies that the receiver of the message is ready and waiting to hear from us.  But communication is a cognitive process, and like most people, my brain is churning with a zillion things – so why should I care about your message?

Understanding the people with whom we wish to communicate is essential – and we need to consider whether they are even in the right frame of mind, or have had a bad day before getting in touch.

On Monday, I received an email to which I took offence primarily because the sender did not appear to take into account that I’m having a bad time at present.  Despite being aware that my father has been in intensive care in hospital in Toulouse, France for nearly six weeks now, they did not factor this into the message transmitted.

Monday was a really bad day – I had just driven 12 hours down the length of France, in the pouring rain after a hectic week, my father had experienced problems with a tracheotomy that put his life in real danger, and, we’d just heard that one of my parents’ cats had been found dead.

This came as a real shock as Peppy was my favourite of their cats – and my dad’s special one.  Only a week before, Peps had been sleeping on my bed, walking on the computer keyboard as I tried to type and sitting on student work I was marking.  I felt a real bond with him despite not really being a cat person.

imageThis little black cat had real attitude – not surprising given that my mother had found him when just a few days old under a wood pile, and she’d nurtured him to become the handsome, five year old who won our hearts.  He was the big brother to a litter of four, and he kitty-sat these, before giving some firm lessons on life – as here in this photo of Peppy with his little brother Charlie.

Charlie, and his sister Tilly, Peppy, an unnamed cat, and the ashes of my Rottie-GSD dog are now all buried in my parents’ garden halfway up the Pyrenees.  My parents live in a small village in rural France, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to offer kitties their full nine lives.  But, we still have mummy cat, and the two remaining big boy cats from the litter, Kevin and Julian. 

On top of thinking about the cats, and bringing Ivory (my parents’ Landseer Newfoundland Diva dog) back to my house, I’m trying to support my mum who is staying in a small hotel near the hospital, keeping family members informed of the ups and downs of my dad’s condition – and juggling my usual work/teaching commitments.

Not everyone you communicate with will be as stressed, emotionally-drained or sensitive as I was on Monday – but you never know.

So before you think about what you want to say, maybe you could take a few seconds to consider what else might be in the heads of your audiences – and ensure you don’t make a bad day even worse.


  1. Ellee says:

    Heather, I’m sorry to hear about Peps and your father. It’s doubly hard in these circumstances when you are based in another country. Don’t be too hard on this person who contacted you on your bad day, maybe he wasn’t aware of the true extent. I imagine you wish you could be in three or four places at the same time right now. I hope your father is more comfortable now.

  2. Sherrilynne says:

    I had a similar situation this week, but from the opposite perspective. A colleague is going through a personal crisis and is having more bad days than good. She feels guilty that she doesn’t have the work focus she usually does; she assumes that other people’s stress is her fault even though it’s entirely unrelated to her or her situation. I feel for her. She takes on too much upon herself.

  3. Ellee – thanks for your thoughts. I realise that the other person wasn’t fully aware of what I was going through, but my point is that we should think more carefully, especially as in this case it was a critical email – not meant to be entirely directed at me, but it felt that way from the way it was written.

    Sherrilynne – I know exactly how your colleague feels since that is one of my problems as I’m trying to maintain “service as normal” – which I realise isn’t 100% possible, and although people are supportive, each still wants their task to be completed.

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