2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.

As those of you who have been following for a while know , I take a lot of inspiration for ideas from music. Except in this case a discussion connected me back to a song. These lyrics are from an Anna Nalick song called Breathe, and to me reminds me of times when i have felt compelled to write to someone about a burning issue.

That in itself is a great idea! What doesn’t always turn out so well is when I send what I’ve written without taking the opportunity for some reflection.

A nice story all tied up with a bow.
A nice story all tied up with a bow.

A few weeks back I was chatting with a friend about an email that he had written but not sent. My friend was aware of something with a potential to form a negative influence in their office and had some strong feelings about this that he had written down in an email to send to the key leader in the office.

This email was not “threatening the life it belongs to” but the subject matter was very important and my friend wanted to help/contribute/express himself on the topic.

In our discussions we worked through the options that we saw in this situation. Whether to send the email, withhold the email but seek out a discussion or to let it go, either forever or simply until the right time arose. In this situation, my friend made the decision to let go until the right time appeared. From an observer perspective it seemed like the process of writing, discussing, thinking and deciding allowed him to arrive at a decision he was at peace with.

But that and Anna Nalick got me thinking about the value of writing our thoughts down when we are wrestling with an issue that is important to us, particularly one where we are quite personally engaged and feel a need to express ourselves to others.

Personally I’ve always thought writing my thoughts, addressed to the other person without actually sending them is a very beneficial exercise. The equivalent of a deep breath in a tense face to face meeting.

What are some of the benefits that we might gain from picking up a pen, putting hands on a keyboard, etc? Here are some that come to mind for me:

  • We get a chance to safely vent. We get the emotions associated with something important out of us, but most importantly into written word that we can review.
  • We get a chance to organize our thoughts. Once the words are captured we can look at them and structure them and add (or subtract) from what we truly believe.
  • We get a chance to contemplate sending these thoughts and how they might be received. This lets us shift from a perspective of look what is happening to me to what impact might I have on others.
  • We get a chance to read our thoughts from the others perspective and shine another angle of light on the issue. Now we’re really getting somewhere! We start to examine the issue from another’s perspective and in doing so start to examine the rationality of the issue.
  • We get to think about how we might phrase things differently. We start to build our new-found insight into another person’s view into our communication.
  • We get a chance to look for alternative approaches to a written communication. A part of thinking about another’s perspective is that we now may consider a dialogue instead of a one way communication like an email.
  • And above all we get the chance to decide whether the issue at hand is worthy of being brought into the open. At the end of this process of examining what was at first an important issue to us, we get to now decide if it is something that is an issue that needs to be address, or merely one that we had to put into perspective for ourselves.

Writing things down is a very valuable tool. But how valuable it is as a tool in resolving interpersonal or sensitive issues?

Written but not seen
Written but not seen

On one hand it is possible to be very precise in our words and therefore articulate very clearly what we are thinking and feeling. On the other person we are not in control of how the other person interprets our words, and in most cases we won’t be present to note reactions and respond with clarity.

We have all been recipients of what we felt were poison pen missives, flaming emails, toxic notes, snot-o-grams, etc. Are we sure of our interpretation?

I think over time my ground rules have evolved to where I now rarely send an email in these situations. The risks outweigh the possible benefits. I now look to personal conversations (face to face if possible) where I’ve concluded I need resolution. But more often than not I breathe deeply and come to the conclusion that the other person was doing their best, and that needs to be honored … other opportunities to discuss the situation will arise.

What are your thoughts in this area? Do you write out your issues or use other tools to resolve issues? When you write out your thoughts how often do you send them?

And as always when I take my inspiration for a post from a song, here is a link to Anna Nalick’s Breathe.

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

6 thoughts on “Breathe

  1. I have been on the receiving end of toxic vents which can be upsetting and, like you, I rarely respond in writing. I prefer thought out measured responses in person. The conclusion that the other person was “doing their best” does allow an empathetic approach. However, taking things up in person does mean you have to be a quick-thinker and have anticipated responses for it to be really effective.

    1. Thanks for the contribution Elizabeth. Receiving a toxic vent can be disruptive to our own balance … going directly to the person instead of continuing the written warfare is definitely the high road. I wonder how much more enlightened the discussion could have been if the original toxic vent was not sent at all … just written and examined as a part of the path forward.

      1. I have a hard time as I don’t want to send things I may regret later. I have a situation in my personal life where some contentious issues need to be addressed and the person on the receiving end may not appreciate it not matter how eloquently it might be phrased. I am afraid it may just widen the existing chasm that is already there. These words may forever be unspoken. Nothing will be solved but if I do send it I might feel better but the other person may disown me.

  2. I too use music for inspiration, soothing, escaping it really is a gift to compile a song that transforms / helps others. This is a great song I’ve always enjoyed it and wish at times life had a “rewind button”.

    The idea of writing it all down and not hitting the send button works very well for me, many times I have written down a quick response and I now always save as draft and come back to it…I no longer push the send button :-)… there were a few times over the years when I was a young manager that I have to confuse I pushed send! Face to face is always the best when confronted with a conflict, technology is such a useful tool for quick business communications but if it is a difficult subject it can often be misconstrued. That said there are times when it is necessary to use e-mail or a letter the key I find is lose the ego and find compassion, write the request / response which ever it is with kindness and empathy. Also in business if you use the e-mail method you have a paper trail which is useful at times, it really just depends but always save as draft and rewrite as need to ensure the message will be received well.

    Thanks again

    1. Thanks for the contributions Heather. I like the business thoughts towards the end of your comments. I totally agree that email helps with documenting a discussion. My experience is that works really well when the subject matter is less sensitive than perhaps an issue that has some “heat” to it.

  3. Love that song!

    And… I find the vent is for me — not for others and as long as I remember that — I don’t need to send the words because as soon as I come back to that place where I measure my words, actions and even thoughts against — what do I want to create, harmony or discord — it’s easier to see how sending the vent will create everything I don’t want.

    Great post and reminder Ian.

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