An interesting story captured the internet by storm about a year ago: It all began when a JetBlue customer by the name of Courtney Duffy tweeted at the airline for help with her cross-country ticket after she was asked to "relinquish her duties as a bridesmaid."
It appears that Duffy has since deleted the tweet, but not before it got the attention of thousands of people, many of whom sympathized with her plight (and others who thought the bride was completely justified).
If you read my column, you know I write a lot about the role emotional intelligence plays in the world of business. (I recently wrote a book on the topic.) Emotional intelligence describes the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions effectively--basically, to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
As I perused the email (which you can read in full at the end of this column), I couldn't help but identify how a little forethought could have improved this situation--and how these lessons draw parallels in the modern workplace.
So, here are 5 takeaways from the "viral bridesmaid" email:
1. This type of communication should never happen over email.
We live in a world where technology has a profound impact on our communication. Many today prefer writing--whether text messages, social media posts, and yes, emails--to speaking because they feel it's more convenient. And, to be brutally honest, many prefer it because they lack the courage (or desire) to have a difficult conversation.
But it's extremely difficult to address the nuances of a sensitive situation and achieve proper tone when writing. Written messages often cause misunderstandings, confusion, and hurt feelings. In worst-case-scenarios, they can destroy a relationship.
If the situation is delicate, and you truly value your relationship with the other person (or want to prevent wasting hours on damage control), bite the bullet and have a face-to-face conversation. If that's not possible, at least pick up the phone and give the other person a call.
2. Communicate scope.
In the email, the mystery bride gave us a clue as to her high expectations for bridesmaids, which included:
joining a bachelorette trip ("at least the weekend")
the full night of the event (no early flights home)
and...wait for it...an official bridesmaid "jumpsuit"
Of course, what a bride chooses to plan for her wedding is her business. And the leader of any team is responsible for setting the expectations of that team.
But it is also up to the leader to explicitly communicate those expectations, so team members (and bridesmaids) know exactly what they're getting into.
Of course, the mystery bride may have been careful to communicate her expectations to all involved. But if she didn't, it would explain why her friend may not have been fully invested in the bride's requests.
3. Beware of mixed messages.
One of the reasons Duffy's message went viral was because many readers identified with her feelings, indicating they saw the email as insincere and passive-aggressive.
The truth is, we have absolutely no background or context to this situation, so it's difficult to judge. And taken at face value, it's possible the bride sincerely meant every word of her message, and had the purest of intentions.
But exercising empathy could have led the bride to realize that lines like "I know how hard you're working to be here for the wedding and it means so much to us!" and "I love you and value your friendship so much and I fully understand the need for you to prioritize school!" seem contradictory to what she then asks Duffy to do, namely, bow out of her wedding party.
In other words, if the appreciation for her attending was truly great, why not let Duffy continue as a bridesmaid--even if she couldn't fulfill all of the duties?
This is often the problem we encounter in the workplace. Employers and managers say one thing, but their actions indicate something completely different.
The takeaway: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and make sure you back up your words with actions. Doing so will gain others trust and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.
4. Be careful with your exclamation points.
This email had a grand total of 11 (11!) exclamation points--not counting the one in the subject line. (The email is only 18 sentences long.)
That means that roughly 60% of the total message ended with an exclamation point--a punctuation mark that Webster's says should be used to indicate "forceful utterance or strong feeling."
Can you see how this (over)use of exclamation could be interpreted as false enthusiasm or being inauthentic?
5. Remember the "front-page rule."
The final lesson from this crazy story is from the other side--that of the bridesmaid. Interestingly, the original tweet to JetBlue is now unavailable...and Duffy's Twitter profile is now set to private.
We can only speculate, but imagine how the mystery bride felt to find that her email--which she wrote (presumably with noble intentions) to a friend she considered close enough to include in the most important day of her life--was now a viral sensation, inspiring innumerable strangers to call her an awful friend.
What do you think that will do for the friendship?
Remember, anything you post online has the potential to go to the front page of the internet--a front page that has greater reach than any media in history.
So, if you want to tweet private communication between you and another party for the world to see, that's your prerogative.
But you better be prepared to live with the consequences.
Here's the full email in case you're interested, as originally tweeted to JetBlue:
I'm so glad to hear you booked flights! I'm sorry classes are taking such a long time to sort out. I know how hard you're working to be here for the wedding and it means so much to us!
I have a massive favor to ask you, though--and this is one of the hardest things I've ever had to ask anyone--but I need to ask you to relinquish your duties as a bridesmaid.
Come to the wedding, have a fabulous time, and travel in the time you need to without stressing about anything else!
When I asked you, I was really hoping that you could be a part of this whole thing--the bachelorette trip, at least the weekend, prep and the full night of the event (a Sunday night flight means you won't even be able to be there for the whole wedding)... the whirlwind nature of what your travel has become just won't work with the duties as a party member. I'm so, so sorry!!
Please don't feel you're letting me down, I am asking you to do this. I love you and value your friendship so much and I fully understand the need for you to prioritize school! I want you to be able to focus on that without also worrying about any extra wedding worries.
And I know this is incredibly awkward, but there is a possibility that I might be able to have someone else step into the role and assume the duties. Could you please mail the jumpsuit to me? I'll Venmo you the postage and the cost of the jumpsuit--just let me know the total.
I know everyone is looking forward to seeing you there! I know I am!
And if you'd like to chat on the phone, let me know! I promise we're totally cool!
All my love,
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.