How to Respond to an E-mail That Enrages

First: Do not respond when you are angry. Give yourself time to cool off.

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Michael Wade
Imagine that you are angry, very angry, at a coworker in another department who has just sent you a very irritating E-mail. You believe this person has broken a promise, betrayed your trust, and is playing Machiavellian games. “Livid squared” might best describe you as you sit before the keyboard and prepare to hammer out a scathing reply.

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Stop. Do not respond when you are angry. Give yourself time to cool off. If you blast the person while fuming, you risk uttering intemperate remarks that create sympathy for the offender and damage your position.

Ask yourself how you’d respond if the E-mail had been sent by a well-respected coworker. That may help to shift your focus to the process and not the personality. You may wish to keep the focus there when you respond.

But don’t assume that you need to respond. Not every note or nuance deserves an answer. Ignoring the note may be the wisest--and perhaps kindest--thing you can do.

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Despite your suspicions, there is the possibility that no offense was intended. Asking the person to clarify various points may defuse the situation. You may even adopt the old politician’s practice of answering the message that you wish you'd been sent. Doing so gives the person the chance to climb back from a note that he or she may have regretted five seconds after being sent.

Look for any merit in the person’s position and make sure that you don’t gloss over any problems with your own. Your goal, if possible, is to craft a reasonable working relationship and not engage in the sort of inter-office warfare that can tarnish both sides.

That’s why any E-mail response may be flawed. E-mail is a terrible vehicle for sensitive communication. Too often, the tone comes across as abrupt or hostile. Consider meeting with the person to discuss the issue. If you believe an informal mediator might help, you might ask a neutral third party--perhaps a mutual friend--to sit in and give an additional perspective.

All of the above approaches require a calm mind and a clear eye. You’ll have neither if you answer while your teeth are clenched.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.