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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

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  • 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.
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    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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