Responding to work based emails is an art in itself. Getting the tone, language, subject line, spelling, context and message delivered in a way that builds and preserves relationships is harder than it looks. Emails are the most common form of workplace communication and something you probably don’t really think about. Until, that is, you get that one that stuns you. The author; maybe angry, frustrated or annoyed, hits send (you can almost hear the bang of the keyboard) and you are now in receipt of an angry email. What should you do? How do you respond?
Take a break
Never respond to an angry email immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are asked for a speedy response or if it is a high priority email, step away from the keyboard. Your response is now a weapon and a dangerous one if used incorrectly! Grab a coffee, take a walk, go to the bathroom, listen to some music or talk to a friend you trust. If you can, take longer and leave it a few hours before you respond. Whatever you do, wait until your emotional response has calmed down and you are back to your professional self.
When you get back to your desk hit the reply button and in one foul swoop remove your recipients email address. Yes, delete their address. When emotionally aroused it is way too easy to bang out a response and hit send. Often you will feel almost instant regret. When you hit reply instantly delete your colleague, boss or client email address before you begin composing your response. This one simple trick provides that thoughtful millisecond before you hit send to ensure you are happy with the tone, content and professionalism. It also means that a snap response is not possible!!
Print off your email and take time to distill the facts hidden beneath the angry and frustrated language. Circle or highlight any requests for factual information. It is hard to do but ignore everything else searching only for facts. Ask yourself am I jumping to any conclusions here? Is it possible that I am misinterpreting the tone of the email? What does this person actually want? How can I diffuse this without making it worse or getting more upset?
Craft your response
Based on the facts you have identified, craft your response. As write, do so as if somebody you respect professionally or hold admiration for is standing over your shoulder reading as you’re writing. Do you feel proud of your response? Would you feel comfortable if you were asked to read your email aloud in a meeting? Are you happy to have your email pinned to the staff notice board for everyone to read? If the answer to any of these questions are in the negative, you need to redraft your response.
Refrain & Restraint
Be direct, clear and candid in your response. Keep it short and to the point. Address only the facts you have been asked to deal with. Refrain and restraint in this situation is hard but the best option by far.
Ask to meet
While it might be the last thing you want to do, always ask to meet at the end of an email. Unless you are in a situation where you are being bullied or harassed. If this is the case, you should be seeking professional advice. In all other cases ask to meet over a coffee and see how you can build the relationship. Keep in mind that people send emails when they are not satisfied with something, are angry with somebody else, are having a bad day or are confused or disappointed. It may be nothing to do with you at all so try not to take it personally, particularly if it is a one off or if this is the style of communication that this person has.
So, the next time you receive an angry e-mail remember these four R’s-
(1) Resist the urge to reply immediately.
(2) Reflect on what was said in a cool, calculating way.
(3) Rewrite your response several times, ensuring it’s professional and to the point.
(4) Then, and only then, should you reply with a request to meet at the end.
Remember, only you can design a career that you love, and if you don’t, somebody will do it for you.
By Sinead Brady