When Email Makes You Mad

I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who was having problems with one of their managers at work. Their frustration really centred around the type of emails they were receiving from them, and it became clear to me that this wasn't just an isolated incident. 

The main thing that seemed to really upset them was the negative, emotional content that really felt like a personal attack.  

I've seen messages like these myself, so I can appreciate how frustrating they can be. As this is The Simplicity System though, I have a few suggestions that could make things easier.

Let's start by looking at the type of messages I'm referring to. In a typical scenario, something may have gone wrong or someone believes, or wants others to believe, you have made a mistake. 

The problem is, instead of simply alerting you to it in a practical fashion, you're pretty much given an essay on the effect it has had on them.

The emotional impact is often made very clear, as well as their feelings towards you at that time. You'll probably be told how long it will take them to deal with the problem and how unhappy they are with everything. All of this is likely be laid on pretty thick as well, and it won't always seem that sincere.

Any practical advice on how to put things right or make corrections in future is also likely to be flooded with sarcasm and the whole world will probably be CC'd into these emails as well.

The worst thing about these type of messages is that it's very hard to respond to them, as you're likely to instantly react. Even the most mindful among us will probably feel the urge to reply with an equally emotive message and be extremely upset.

"How dare they", "who do they think they are" and "why should I take this" are likely to be the first thoughts that come into your mind. You'll probably be tempted to get up and have a word with the person who sent it as well if they're in the same building.

Sometimes, you may also be sure that what they're saying isn't strictly true and you may even have evidence that contradicts them.


Remember all the mindfulness stuff I've mentioned in the past? This is where it's all really useful.

The first thing you need to establish here is if the person is really being unreasonable or whether you have misunderstood their message. It's probably a good idea to go back and read it again as dispassionately as you can, as you probably blew your top when you read the first thing that upset you.

Unless there's a deadline, it's probably best to wait a bit before you reply as well. You shouldn't ignore it though because if there is an agenda behind it, they will probably use this against you.

While you figure out how you'll reply, you may want to consider the following options that are likely to be available. If possible can you:

  • Ask someone else's advice
  • Do anything to resolve the situation
  • Show the other person that they're mistaken
  • Let them know how you feel about it
  • Refer the matter to someone else

I think the most important thing here is that if it's within your power to put things right or do something practical, it may not be in anyone's interest if you dig your heels in and escalate the issue to prove a point. 

You should also be mindful that gossip will reflect you and that it's likely to get back to the other person. This means you need to be careful how you approach it if you're asking a colleague for advice.

If you have to correct statements or opinions, my advice is to stay professional and keep emotion out of it if you can.

Facts and figures often act as the referee in situations like this and it can also helps if you explain the strategy and reasoning behind your decisions.

If the person doesn't have authority over you, it may also be an idea to just let them know you didn't appreciate their message if you think they're not aware of how it's coming over.

If they do have authority though, it's probably best to wait and speak to them later on, or in a scheduled one-on-one meeting, if you feel you need to pursue it. There may also be an opportunity to escalate this within an organisation if you feel it's serious and that you're repeatedly being singled out.

Like before, I think it's best to keep it professional, keep to the facts and look for solutions.

Finally, if you've been reading this and are reminded of some message you've sent that you're not proud of, perhaps it's time to do something about it. While there are times when you need to  make it clear that people have let you down to motivate them, you may want to think about how it comes over.

Horrible Email

You also need to make sure you're not just communicating with certain individuals, one age group or sex this way either.

If you're a manager, maybe it’s a good time to look at how your team interact as well. I honestly don't think this is an obvious thing to do for a lot of people, and you're sure to be surprised at the type of messages whizzing around your network. It's not just about people's hurt feeling in this situation either, as they are likely to become disillusioned and dissatisfied with the role they’re in and even the organisation if it keeps happening.

Horrible messages like this often overlook key achievements and hard work elsewhere, so I think it's safe to say that it's a great way to lose staff.

Even when we're at home and out of work, it doesn't hurt us to think about the messages we're sending. More importantly, we should consider what we're trying to achieve whenever we compose one.

I hope this has all been helpful and that it's given you something to think about before you next hit send.