Let me paint a picture: Cozied up with a cup of coffee, you’re feeling optimistic about your day and that to-do list to your left. After sifting through a few emails, you come across one that makes you pause. You read it again and it’s clear—it’s just plain mean. You’re not sure if they intended to sound like a jerk or just didn’t express their thoughts well. Granted, it doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is now a fairly universal experience—across all industries and jobs. Even worse, I think it’ll become more and more common as we rely on email more and more for daily communication. Sad, but true.

So… should we sulk in the corner? Throw our computers against a brick wall? Nope. Take a deep breath and follow my lead:

  1. Take some time to cool off. It’s only natural to want to strike back as soon as possible. Receiving a terrible email gives you a surge of adrenaline, after all. Remember, however, that email lasts forever. Take a walk down the hallway or finish another task. Never write while your blood’s boiling.
  2. Take the high road. How can you do this? As painful as it may be, thank them. Write an email that thanks them for their feedback. Then ask to speak over the phone or in person. Don’t apologize—you’re not in the wrong. Just set up the next conversation as professionally as possible.
    • Hi Clara, Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I really want to get to the bottom of it. Can I call you sometime this afternoon? Let me know when’s best for you. Thanks, B
  3. Talk about the email. When you’re speaking or face to face, it’s more than likely that the conversation will be much smoother and amicable than over email. Try to take charge of this conversation, if possible, to discuss the miscommunication or problem at hand.

    • Your email implied you were upset by this. What can I do to make things run more smoothly?
    • There’s a miscommunication. Let’s resolve it now.
  4. Address the rude emails directly, if necessary. You may want to speak to your colleague directly if his or her emails are consistently rude. You can even suggest that he or she sets up a time to speak when issues arise, instead of emailing you.

 Keep in mind, rude emails usually have more to do with the person writing them—his or her stress level, uncertainties, etc.—and not about you or your work. While this certainly doesn’t excuse their behavior, remembering this helps to not take rude emails so personally.

How do you respond to rude emails? Do you think they’re an unfortunate byproduct of doing business in the digital age?


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