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Emailing Effectively

A nonprofit company in Florida sent out email blasts to all managers at all their locations. This meant that some portions of the message were not intended for everyone, even though everyone received them. The IT department had tried to remedy this, but had run into difficulties. The assistant to the president received an email from a manager at one of their smaller facilities saying, “Why do you send me this if it doesn’t refer to me?!” Looking back on the email, she says, “When I got it, I felt like I’d been hit. It was so rude.” Wisely, she decided to put the email aside and take care of other matters for a while. Several hours later, she composed a calm response, explaining the problems with the IT department. The manager immediately responded, “Oh, now I understand. I’m sorry.” A potential conflict had been avoided.

How should you respond when you receive an email that feels like a slap in the face?


Don’t respond immediately.
The immediate instinct is to lash back at the person who hurt us, either hurling insults at them or angrily defending our position. This is usually a mistake. An email written in anger will linger forever on your company’s server, waiting to be called forth in a lawsuit or grievance. The email can be forwarded to anyone, making you look bad. Moreover, responding in anger only escalates the conflict.

  • Put the email aside and do something else. If possible, sleep on it before responding.

Consider responding by phone or in person.
If the other person is genuinely upset with you, email might not be the best way to respond. Let time pass. Then pick up the phone or ask for an in-person meeting. Remember, email lacks the nuance that a personal conversation can provide.

  • If you genuinely want to clear the air, speak to the person directly.

Take the moral high ground.
Perhaps the other person is being unfair, insulting, rude, or insensitive. That is their problem. Don’t make it your problem. If you respond in kind, you have descended to that person’s level and will have to fight it out from there. If you refuse to engage in the conflict and stay calm and courteous, you will outclass your opponent and defuse the situation.

  • Don’t descend to the other person’s level.

Think of the big picture.
The person who sent you the email is probably someone with whom you will have interact tomorrow and the next day. Before responding in anger, think of the big picture: What kind of relationship do you want to have with this person next week? Next month?
In the Worktalk writing trainings, we talk about the Three Ps: purpose, person, and point. Think of these principles when you are reeling from that email:

  • What is the purpose of my relationship with this person? What result do I hope to achieve from responding to this person? What do I hope to accomplish?
  •  What kind of person am I dealing with? Is that person over-sensitive? Does that person already feel badly for having written the email? Is this person likely to over-react and escalate the conflict? What kind of language would get through to this individual?
  • What is my point? Note: “You are a jerk” is not a valid point. Make a rational, constructive point. If there is no such point, don’t send the email. Vent your feelings and then delete without sending. In the example above, the assistant’s point was that she understood his frustration and that IT was working on the problem.

Keep your cool.
Maybe the person who wrote you the email is going through a personal crisis, or just having a really bad day. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to let his bad day ruin yours. Take ten deep breaths. Wait before responding. Be the better person. Focus on your end game, which is to maintain your reputation as a person who acts with grace under pressure and who maintains working relationships with all kinds of people.

Responding to upsetting emails is challenging, but it is a challenge you can overcome.

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.


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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