Hold That Thought! Angry E-mails

Here’s one tip that those career blogs talk about that is worth remembering:

If you receive an e-mail that upsets you, don’t reply.

Wait 15 minutes. Wait a day. Heck, don’t reply and just call. Replying to an e-mail that upsets you will only cause trouble, as you are likely to send an angry response that escalates a minor issue into a whole new can of worms.

Michael Hyatt (one of my favorite bloggers), offers this story:

Several years ago, I wrote a fourteen-page diatribe to a business associate. I skewered him. I was right. He was wrong. And I had the proof.

I laid it out in meticulous detail. I prosecuted my case like a lawyer before the bar. I sent it off with fire in my eyes and a healthy dose of self-satisfaction in my heart. That’ll show him, I thought.

I eagerly waited for his response. After a few weeks, I still hadn’t heard a word. So I re-read the letter and was embarrassed. My response was way out of proportion to the stimulus that provoked it. While I was technically right, I was relationally wrong. I never should have sent the letter. I regretted that I had acted so childishly.

I am ashamed to admit that the same has happened to me (though I limited my response to one page!). A coworker and I have since developed a silent truce: we reply in person if the e-mail is more complex than a simple “good to go.”

Here’s what I do when I receive an e-mail that upsets me:

  1. Immediately click reply and write a snarky response (this helps you keep mentally sane).
  2. Click cancel (this helps you keep your job).
  3. Do something else for a few minutes (cool down period).
  4. Go back to the e-mail and read what it means, not what it says.
  5. Reply with a positive spin to whatever the e-mail was trying to say. (Go back to step number 3 if snarky comments continue to find their way in your e-mail.)
You’ll know you have succeeded when the person responds in a positive tone.