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Email Tone: What If You Really Are Angry?

In a recent post, I suggested several ways to warm up the tone of your emails, so that you will not seem angry to your readers. A perceptive reader asked me, “What if you really are angry, disappointed, or upset? How do you express yourself when the ‘nice’ email does not get the desired response?” This post is a response to his excellent question.

What is your purpose? Venting or Problem-solving?

First of all, ask yourself what your purpose is. Do you want to vent, or to produce some desirable result?

If you want to vent, remember this caveat: Angry emails are rarely productive. Often, they fan the flames of animosity and spur the receiver to write back something even angrier, or worse, to forward your angry email to people you respect, causing them to respect you less.

Every critical word or nuance is magnified a hundredfold in the reader’s mind when it comes in an email. Think about critical or angry emails you have received. Did they make you think, “Oh, of course, I was wrong. Let me just fix that right up for you.” Or were you hurt, defensive, and resentful?

So Venter Beware: The momentary relief you get from pounding on the keys and hitting send is likely to be overshadowed by long-lasting negative consequences.

But let’s say you are angry, upset, or disappointed, and you are not indulging in the urge to vent. You have a complaint, and you want a result. What approach should you take in your email? Here are four steps to follow to get results when you are angry.

Four Steps to Getting Results When You Are Upset

1.         State the facts.  Just saying what happened should have some impact on your reader; you do not have to embellish the facts with emotional language.

  • You sent me merchandise that I did not order.
  • The product was broken when it arrived.
  • The report, which was due on Friday, did not arrive until the following Thursday.

2.         State the consequences of the mistake. What happened because of the mistake? People often fail to consider the impact of their action or inaction. They may be more motivated to make the situation right if they see what their mistake cost you.

  • Because the camera did not work, I was unable to photograph my daughter’s third birthday party.
  • The late report led me to miss an important deadline with the customer.
  • We lost the client.

3.         State your request or conditions. If you are not going to ask for some compensation, monetary or not, there is not much point writing the email. Do you just want them to know they messed up? What good will come of that? Even if all you want is an apology, ask for it.

  • Please send me a mailing label to return the unwanted merchandise and issue me a full refund so that I will not be forced to lodge a formal complaint with my credit card company.
  • I request an immediate replacement for the broken merchandise.
  • Please write to the client to take responsibility for the late report, and ask him to reconsider his decision.
  • If an important deadline is missed in the future, it will have serious implications for your future with this company.

4.         Thank or acknowledge the reader. This step might seem unnecessary if it was the other person who made the mistake. However, you rarely go wrong by thanking a person for his or her attention. You have made your request, but it still requires a modicum of goodwill from the other person for you to get what you want. Also, even if the other person was entirely in the wrong, she is a human being, imperfect as we all are, and deserves to be treated with dignity.

At the same time that you thank the person, you can remind her of the desired response.

  • Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to receiving the mailing label today.
  • Thank you for sending the replacement item promptly.
  • I know apologizing is difficult, and I thank you for making the effort.
  • I trust this was a one-time error, and look forward to continuing our work together.

The emails you will write by following these four steps will not be warm and fuzzy, but they are also not bridge-burners. By sticking with the facts and making your expectations clear, you open a path for the other person to make good on his mistake, and allow both of you to continue the relationship.

To contact Elizabeth Danziger about email training or business writing training, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.worktalk.com.

©2016 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

Writing in ALL CAPS: What are the costs?

Writing in all caps makes readers less receptive

It may seem obvious that writing in all caps is a mistake, but the following story really happened to me.

I recently taught an email effectiveness course for an accounting firm in Los Angeles. It was mandatory, so everyone in the office was there. During the program, I told the participants “Don’t write your subject line in all caps.”

A senior partner in his mid-50s, Jeffrey, practically jumped out of his chair. “But I always write my subject lines in all caps!”

A collective sigh went around the room. “Yeah… we know,” said his colleagues.

I explained that when you write in all caps, the reader feels he’s being yelled at. “But I don’t mean to yell,” Jeffrey said, “I just want to be emphatic.”

His boss chimed in. “But everyone feels yelled at. Either you can wait for the rest of the world to come to your point of view, or you can adapt to the rest of the world. I recommend the latter.”

Jeffrey would not give up. “But people get so many emails --- I have to write my subject lines in all caps to get people’s attention.”

“Yes, you can get people’s attention with all caps,” I persisted, “but it is not the kind of attention you want. It is negative attention. When you write in all caps, you are automatically irritating your reader and making her less disposed to receive your message. Is that what you really want?”

He sat back in his chair and thought silently for a long time.

At the break, many staff members came to thank me for giving this feedback to their colleague. “We get together in the break room and talk about how awful his emails are,” said one person. “I hate getting emails from him – I always put off reading them,” said another.  “His emails really make me resent him,” said a third.

When I met with Alan, the partner in charge of the office, after the training, he said he’d had no idea that Jeffrey’s email habits had had such a damaging effect on the office culture. No one wanted to complain to the boss, but everyone resented Jeffrey’s all-caps habit.  Alan thanked me for bringing this issue to light during the email effectiveness training.

A month after the training, I contacted both Jeffrey and Alan. Jeffrey had stopped writing in all caps, and his standing in the office had significantly improved.

More importantly, his readers -- both within and outside the office -- were more receptive to his messages when they no longer felt he was shouting at them.

From my 20+ years of training experience, I can tell you that Jeffrey’s story is not unique.

People use all caps to be emphatic, without realizing that others interpret it as yelling. They do not see that they are creating resentment and resistance rather than receptivity. So what do we learn from this training experience?

  • Writing in all caps offends readers.
  • Writing in all caps generates negative attention instead of positive attention.
  • One employee’s writing in all caps can poison an office culture.

For information about Worktalk’s email effectiveness trainings and webinar, contact Elizabeth Danziger: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (310) 396-8303.

©2016 Elizabeth Danziger Do not reproduce without author’s permission.

Warming Up the Tone of Your Emails: Smile as you Write

 warming up tone of email

Have you ever written an email to someone who misinterpreted your tone? They thought you were angry; you thought you were just getting to the point. Or they thought you were being sarcastic, when you thought you were being witty.

When email communications go awry, tone is often the issue.

In the Worktalk email trainings, we talk at length about how to warm up the tone of your emails.

Here, I will share one key principle: Smile when you write.

pencil in mouth smile whne you write

In Daniel Kahneman’s outstanding book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he cites a study that was done in Germany.

There were two groups of experimental subjects.

One group was asked to hold a pencil in their mouth horizontally; this forces the sides of the mouth up into a smile.

writing business personal emails force your face relaxThe other groupmembers were asked to hold the pencil vertically in their mouth, which forced the face down into a slightly frowning position.

Then both groups were shown a piece of humorous writing and asked, “Are you amused?”

The group that was smiling was more amused than the group that was frowning.

Research on smiling abounds, and the conclusion is clear:

When you smile, you feel happier, even if you’re crying inside.

Certainly, when you smile at other people, they feel happier.

What does this have to do with email?

Well, the fact is that your readers can feel that smile through their computer. If you are pounding away on the keys with your mouth set in a grim line, odds are that you are writing an email whose tone you will regret.

So when writing your business or personal emails, force your face to relax a little:

  • Smile.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • You will get better responses to your emails. And you’ll feel happier too.
Watch our YouTube video on this topic and for information about other Worktalk webinars and programs, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Addressing Emails: To, CC, BCC, and the Dreaded Reply All

To, CC, BCC, and the Dreaded Reply All           

Every email needs an addressee, and every time you address an email, you make significant choices. First, are you going to be careful as you hover your mouse over the To line and make sure that you are sending the email to your intended recipient, and not to some hapless soul who shares the same initials?

That’s the first addressing error, and it has led attorneys to send their strategies to opposing counsel,  snarky authors to send their nasties to the people they are trashing, and employers to send comments  that end up as evidence in wrongful termination lawsuits. At the least, it has led to some very embarrassing moments. So the first rule of addressing emails is:
·         Make sure you are sending your email ONLY to the person you intend it to reach.

Read more ...

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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