Anger + Email Responses: A Recipe for Disaster

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Clear, concise writing is an important communication skill for success.  While e mail has become the type of writing most of us do most frequently, many people often forget that the rules associated with good writing also apply to e mail.  We just type a few words, spell check what we’ve written (maybe), and then hit send. 

This cavalier attitude towards e mail can get you into trouble.  Today, I’d like to discuss an e mail rule that will keep you out of trouble.  It’s simple.  Never respond immediately to an e mail that angers or frustrates you.  This is a recipe for trouble.

When you respond immediately to e mails that anger or frustrate you, you are likely to write some things that you may regret later.  When you get one of these e mails, let it sit.  Come back to it in an hour.  Read it again.  Are you as angry or frustrated as you were when you first read it?  I find that on second reading, e mails that anger or frustrate me the first time around, often don’t seem as bad as I initially thought.  When this happens, I’m really glad that I didn’t fire off an inflammatory response.

On the other hand, sometimes an e mail seems worse on second reading.  When this happens, I take a deep breath, and say to myself, “What is the common sense thing to do here, Bud?”  Most often, the answer is to demonstrate restraint in my response.

Here’s an example.  It happened over the past weekend.  I had “met” this individual when I commented on one of his blog posts on career success.  I liked what he had to say and told him so.  Currently, I am looking for partners for the Straight Talk for Success launch (which is scheduled for April 22, by the way).  I was hoping he would become a partner.

I sent an e mail to this person asking him if he would like to participate.  Because he would be doing me a favor, I offered to send him a complimentary copy of one of my other books, 4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations – just to be a nice guy. 

In his reply, he told me that he did not want to participate.  I responded by saying that I appreciated his response, even though it wasn’t what I was hoping for; and offered to send a copy of 4 Secrets because he had been courteous enough to respond to my solicitation.

I received a return e mail that said, “In this day of the internet, Google, and Wikipedia, it’s obvious to me that there are no ‘secrets’ to creating a high performing organization.”

I read those words and felt as if I had been slapped in the face.  I had to agree that technically he was correct.  On the other hand, I thought it was an extremely insulting response to an offer made as a gesture of good will.  I was pissed; and hurt.

My initial reaction was to fire off a nasty e mail telling him just that.  Then I caught myself and said, “What is the common sense thing to do here, Bud?”  That answer was obvious.  Act in an interpersonally competent manner.  As you recall, interpersonal competence is one of the keys to career and life success.

I replied by saying, “Thanks for your response.  After reading your e mail, I’m assuming that you are not interested in reading 4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations, so I won’t send you a copy.  If, however, you’d like to read it, just let me know and I’ll get a copy off to right away.”

I was proud of myself for the restraint I showed.  I broke the cycle of negativity that could have gotten started.  I hate e mail flame wars.  And, I left the door open to further communication with this guy in the future.  You never know.  Leads come from strange places.

The common sense points here are simple.  Clear concise writing is one of the communication skills important for career and life success.  E mail is an important form of written communication.  You should pay as much attention to your e mails as you do other written communication.  Never respond immediately to an e mail that angers or frustrates you.  Wait a while.  Read it again, and then ask yourself, “What is the common sense approach to responding to this e mail?”  If you do this, I bet you’ll temper your initial reaction to write a nasty e mail.  And, your career and life will be better for it.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense. 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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  1. Ina Matijevic says:

    I think that this ”individual” is secret to himself.
    Your books are pearls of an amazing life.
    Well done,

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