Responding to rude emails
Rule one: take a deep breath before replying to a rude email.
I’ve received my share of aggressive emails over the years: from readers complaining about a story; to university students occasionally complaining about a fail grade or low mark; and cranky staff, unhappy about everything, who were quick to fire rude broadsides.
There’s nothing like a nasty email – or 'nastymail' – to wreck your day. Try as you might, the nastymail gets under your skin, begging for a quick, heated reply. Before you know it, a few hours are lost as you contemplate your return serve, and perhaps even draft a reply.
You think about attacking the nasty male who, invariably, sent the nastymail, but good judgement prevails. Why stoop to that level, lose more time, create stress, and give the sender the satisfaction that you have taken the bait for a round or two of email cage-fighting?
What’s your view?
- Do you occasionally receive rude, aggressive emails from work colleagues or superiors?
- How do they make you feel?
- How do you respond?
- What are your best tips for making the nastymailer squirm?
Second, never send a heated email. We’ve all been there: you send a rude email without hesitation, and quickly regret it.
And third, never respond straight away – or reply in an aggressive tone. It’s unprofessional and unproductive, and frankly, lets the nastmailer off too lightly.
Here are seven ways to respond to rude, aggressive work emails, and make the nastymailer squirm in the process:
1. No response
Easily my favourite. The nastymailer fires off a cranky email, waiting for a quick return. When it doesn’t arrive, he or she wonders if the email might have been over the top, and has caused serious offence. Regret sets in and the nastymailer stews over it, preferably over the weekend. Good, let the sender suffer.
2. The brief response
I once had a staff member write a fiery short essay on the many injustices he had suffered, and how the company had overlooked his supposed achievements. My response to his 800-word diatribe: “Thanks very much, John*”. After spending a day crafting his email, the short response was infuriating. Again, it was a simple way to torture somebody who thought nothing of an email attack.
3. The impromptu phone call or pop-in
Email bullies almost always expect return fire via email. Calling them or making an impromptu visit to their workstation, to seek clarification about the email, almost always leads to a hasty retreat, or better still, deep embarrassment. It lets them know you operate many times above their level.
4. The company-wide broadcast
Wish I’d used this one more. Next time you get an over-the-top nastymail, broadcast it to other team members. You might say: “John has raised several points below you might like to comment on.” I guarantee the jerk who fires off rude emails – even if it’s your boss – will think twice if he or she knows you send them on with little hesitation and that several others will read them.
5. The pattern response
Say little or nothing for the first few nastymails, then after the fourth or fifth one, inform the sender you have noticed a pattern of aggressive emails, are deeply unhappy, and intend to show them to the human resource manager or CEO. Better still, inform the nastymailer that his or her emails have caused great stress and you feel the company has, consequently, not provided a safe work environment. Watch people duck for cover when it becomes an occupational health and safety issue.
6. Block their email
I’ve blocked emails from a few rude people who managed to get hold of my email address. Rarely possible at work, but setting your email program to block emails quickly gets the message across. Alternatively, just tell the nastymailer you refuse to respond to aggressive emails. If the email is too much, delete it from your system. Just having it in your inbox can cause stress.
By all means, make nastymailers squirm if they think nothing of criticising you or your work via email. But sometimes good people get stressed and send off cranky emails in haste. The trick is to pick those situations, email politely back, repair relationships, and get on with real work, rather than email cage fighting.