Thursday, March 5, 2009

Responding to a Nasty e-mail at Work

When you get an angry or nasty e-mail from a co-worker, the first thing you probably want to do is fire one back.

"Listen, you moron," you type. "You can take your ridiculous ideas and shove them up your ...."


Don't send it. You know better. You understand that it's not smart to put such a message in an e-mail, but when you've been unfairly accused of something, or the co-worker makes snide comments about you or your job performance, you really, really want to respond in kind.

But before you burn up your keyboard typing back a nasty message, let's look at the smarter way to respond:

1. Walk away. Any time you get such a message, physically get away from it. Go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, walk a flight of stairs. Just remove yourself from the message until you get a chance to let your brain come off the "red alert" status.

2. Sit on it. Once you've returned to your computer, you still should not reply right away. If you can, don't even respond that day. But if the issue is time-sensitive, phone the person or talk to him or her face-to-face. Ask for a convenient time to discuss the issue. Be calm: "I just got your message and I think we should talk. When would be a good time for you?"

3. Weed out the uglies. Before your meeting, make note of the facts. NOT the ugly tone or the insults. Once you dissect it, you may see that the person has a point -- maybe you have missed a deadline, or said or did something that caused the co-worker problems. The best way to disarm a volatile situation is to be calm and say: "I think you have a point about communicating better. That's why from now on I'm going to ...."

4. Don't be bullied. If the person again results to insults, you say: "I am not going to be talked to that way. I'd like to talk about the facts and resolve this issue." If the situation again spirals into insults, walk away. You may end up having to involve human resources if the situation continues to deteriorate. Make sure you have a hard copy of the initial e-mail to show them.

5. Learn from it. You may come to understand from that nasty e-mail what it feels like to have someone be so unprofessional. Maybe you've done something similar when you've been peeved and sent an e-mail in the heat of the moment. In that case, you can benefit from No. 1 and 2. Walk away and sit on it. Don't send it. Have a face-to-face conversation or phone call when you've had time to calm down. It's always better to have a personal conversation about a problem, rather than using an impersonal communication method such as e-mail.

Have you ever received a nasty e-mail from a co-worker? What do you think is the best way to respond?

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Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

Hi Anita, I enjoyed meeting you through Twitter. You write high quality articles for business professionals so I have named your blog for a Premio Dardos award. The The Premio Dardos is “bestowed for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.”

Anita said...

Thank you so much! I very much appreciate your kind words.

Patricia Robb said...

I have occasionally gotten a nasty e-mail from a co-worker. They usually start off nice enough, "Hi, Thank you for your e-mail. In the future..." I call it an e-slap on the wrist, or at least that is what it feels like. I agree with what you say. A face-to-face is much better. Do not respond in kind and if there are a number of recipients this person is including in their e-mail to you, resist pressing Reply to All. I often feel when all these people are included in the string that I need to set the record straight, but most of these people don't really care about our little debate and the e-mails back and forth are only cluttering their Inbox. It sometimes feels like you are being drawn into their argument.

Anita said...

I think you bring up several good points, especially the one about how no one really cares about a tiff you're having with a co-worker. By not dragging everyone into it, you preserve your professionalism not only with the offending e-mailer, but with an entire team. If anyone mentions it, you can always just smile and say, "Oh, that. Just a slight misunderstanding and it's been all cleared up." That stops any gossip and then you can go onto to focusing on your job.
Thanks for posting.