Some days responding to work emails feels like a breeze. Your exchanges are efficient and effective. You feel positive and productive. Life is good!
And then, out of nowhere, a rude email arrives. Your rhythm gets disrupted. Your productivity stalls. You want to scream.
While you can’t prevent the occasional grump from setting fire to your inbox, you can defuse the situation with grace and professionalism.
How should I respond?
Follow these steps when you receive a rude email.
Step 1: Walk Away
When you finish reading an upsetting email, get away from your device. This may feel difficult, as your instincts shout at you to respond, Respond, RESPOND!
Resist the urge, because email is a terrible medium for conveying emotion, particularly anger.
If you reply when you feel hurt or angry, chances are you will say or do something you will regret later, which will compound a bad situation and make you feel worse.
Step 2: Manage Your Emotions
Calming down will help you craft a clear, measured response and get on with your day. Try these techniques:
- Get away from your desk. Go for a walk or grab a snack. Shift your focus away from the negative situation.
- Open a blank document and write the things you really want to say. Spilling your emotions onto the page can have a calming effective, but make sure to delete the document when you’re done.
- Practice 5-5-5 breathing to calm your mind and body.
Step 3: Analyze the Situation
When your emotions are in check, return to the email. Consider who sent it and why. Was it a client, a superior, or someone you are managing? Think about your relationship with the sender and your organization’s relationship. Then study the content of the message. What was the subject of the email? Did the sender make any valid points?
Step 4: Decide When to Respond
If the situation is serious and requires further research or support, follow up with the sender and politely explain when to expect a response.
When you're ready to respond fully, follow the strategies in steps 5–7.
Step 5: Express Understanding
Start your reply by expressing understanding. Your reader will feel heard, and you will set a respectful tone. This strategy reflects well on you and can disarm an emotional reader.
Step 6: Focus on Solutions
After setting the right tone, address the emailer’s complaints. If the emailer raises valid concerns, explain what actions you have taken or will take to address the concerns. If the emailer misunderstands or misrepresents the situation, clarify your position in clear and polite language. Give important context if you need to, but don't feel the need to share every single detail. Stand by your work.
Step 7: End Politely
End on a positive note. Thank the reader for bringing light to the situation, and then provide a polite closing.
What else should I consider?
In the end, taking the high road is always the best approach, even if you have to do it with gritted teeth.
- If the conflict is serious, opt for a face-to-face conversation or phone call. Both mediums are better than email for resolving conflicts.
- If you receive a rude email from a team member working under you, let the person know that your team does not communicate in that way. Explain why the email sounded rude and how to soften it.
- If you receive a rude email from a superior, respond with clear solutions. “I have done x, y, and z to improve the situation. To ensure it doesn’t happen again, I will do x, y, and z.”
- If you feel threatened or unsafe (no matter the sender’s position), contact an HR representative or other trusted colleague.