It can and does happen all of the time. There you are in a happy mood, enjoying your morning despite the chaos at work and the coffee stain you got on your new shirt on the way there, when into your inbox pops an email seemingly created just to ruin your day.
The subject reads:
Why is your report late? (Of course, you have a good reason that has already been discussed.)
Need you to work this weekend (Seriously? This is the fourth weekend in a row.)
Problem with your paycheck again (Again!)
Please remember to abide by our 30-minute lunch break rule (I do, but everyone I know gets an hour!)
___________________________ fill in the blank
Whatever the subject line, it immediately makes you do two things: pinch yourself for not calling in sick, and work yourself into a hissy fit as you click open to read the body of the offender’s email. As with the subject line, it contains either a semi- or overtly-rude message, one that asks you to do something you really should not have to do, or a general reminder of just why you’re looking for another job. Many emails bombard you with all three.
Now that your day feels officially ruined because of this ill-timed, unfair, “who do they think they are?” email, you immediately press reply to respond to the nonsense. And you grumble. You think about how he/she/it is going to think twice before writing you something silly/stupid/unfair again as you quickly respond with an electronic beat down. The funny thing is, like the email you just read, it will likely be unprofessional and entirely unnecessary.
Please! Stop before you press send . . .
Headache-inducing emails are the bane of everyday work life. Responding with migraine-causing emails written when you are upset is a very bad idea—even if it makes you feel good while you’re writing it. Not only will you not help whatever situation was mentioned in the email, you will probably make it worse. On top of that, whether the reply was sent to your co-worker, boss, or client, a hastily-written, mean-ish email will make you look foolish in their eyes (note: people never realize they sent you a foolish email). And of course, other people will probably see your email, too. Didn’t you, after all, just send the offending email to three other people so they could shake their heads about the jerk who sent it?
So, what to do?
- Step away from the computer:Go grab a snack, go to the bathroom, go to your favorite co-worker’s cube, just go somewhere. Getting away from your desk will help release a little tension. Besides, you’ve been sitting on your butt all day anyway.
- Think about why you’re angry and why you probably shouldn’t be:What is the tone of the email that upset you? The person may be having a bad day or perhaps just missed the email-etiquette class you also didn’t attend. It’s not likely they meant to raise your blood pressure. Was someone asking for too much? They probably received a request from someone higher up and aren’t exactly happy to be making you work later, faster, or harder. Or perhaps the work really does need to be done now, regardless of the reason. Was the email totally uncalled for? Maybe there has just been some miscommunication. Maybe the person is realizing their mistake right now and about to send a quick apology.
- Draft a super-nice email. The email you draft needs to be dripping with niceness, courtesy, and supreme professionalism. This way, if the offending email writer didn’t mean to cause you stroke-like symptoms, you won’t create a ruckus with a potentially nasty email response. Even better, if the person did mean to trip you up, he or she will be very surprised and looking like an idiot due to your ignoring their ignorance. Can’t beat that. Now then . . .
First, open with friendliness. A good way to begin is, “Thank you so much for your ‘update, insight, notice,’ etc.
Next, respectfully and concisely acknowledge the matter raised. To prevent letting some of your pissiness come through and to make sure what you write reflects what they actually wrote, it’s best to use exactly the same wording the person used (but don’t put it in quotations, as that looks rude).
Example: “I just received your email regarding my report being late, and I do apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you or your team.”
Afterward, state your response or question regarding the matter raised in the same calm tone. It is okay to let the person know you have a problem with what has happened or been said and why, but don’t do so in a way that tells them off. Also, if there is a possible solution, ask the person to consider it.
Example: “As we discussed in yesterday’s meeting, I am still waiting to get the financial info in the report fact-checked. As I understand, all financial info must be reviewed by our finance team before a report can be considered finalized. If this has changed, please let me know and I will send the report right away. If not, I will get the report to you as soon as I get it back. To speed up the process, I will call the finance department now and remind them again of our deadline. I look forward to providing you with a polished report.”
A response like the example given works for a couple of reasons. It doesn’t blame; isn’t demanding; it provides solutions; and it’s short. Being short is very important. A nicely written response that is four paragraphs long still reflects that you aren’t quite pleased. Finally, close with something sweet and simple, such as “I look forward to your reply” or just “Sincerely.”
But wait, still don’t press send!
Have you considered that communicating via email may be the real problem? Perhaps the matter would be much better discussed in person or over the phone. This is often the case if you would end up playing email tag with the person all day over this one issue. Or, from the tone and information in the email, there is a huge gap in communication and something urgent needs to be addressed. You can use the same strategies given above to communicate with the person. Just take a deep breath before you begin to talk and put on your best smile.