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  • Writer's pictureAnna Conrad

How to Handle an Upsetting Email

Email is the cornerstone of workplace communication, but its convenience can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and emotional contention. An upsetting email can disrupt your day or even impact your overall job satisfaction. This post explores sophisticated strategies for handling such emails with poise and professionalism, ensuring you maintain control over your professional environment and emotional well-being.


Every email is an opportunity to reinforce your professionalism and thoughtfulness

Understand the Impact of Written Words

The absence of tone, facial expressions, and immediate feedback makes emails particularly prone to misinterpretation. A study published in the Journal of Business Communication reveals that recipients often perceive emails as more negative than the sender intended. Before responding, consider this disconnect; it may not be an attack but a misunderstanding.

Steps to Diffuse Tension

  1. Pause Before Responding: Reacting in the moment can escalate the situation. Allow yourself time to process the information and cool down. A brief walk or a few moments of meditation can restore perspective.

  2. Analyze Objectively: Examine the email's factual content, separating emotions from professional issues. This objective analysis can help identify the points of contention or necessary responses.

  3. Seek a Second Opinion: If the email still upsets you, consult with a trusted colleague or supervisor. They can offer a fresh perspective and help decide if the matter requires escalation.


Crafting Your Response: Strategies for Clarity and Diplomacy

  • Acknowledge the sender's perspective. Start your reply by acknowledging the sender's concerns. This does not mean you agree, but it shows respect and willingness to understand, which can defuse potential hostility.

  • Use clear and constructive language. Be precise to avoid further misunderstandings. Use constructive phrases like "I understand where you are coming from. Let's also look at it from another angle," to open up dialogue without confrontation.

  • Explain your perspective without blame or bluster. Keep in mind that this is only the start of the conversation. There may be facts that your counterpart was unaware of.

  • Focus on solutions. Once you understand the problem, concentrate your attention—and your readers'—on the future, where positive change can occur.

  • Propose a follow-up meeting: If the issue is complex or highly charged, suggest a face-to-face or virtual meeting. This often resolves misunderstandings more effectively than a long email thread.


Immediate Actions to Take

  • Implement an 'Email Cooling Off' Rule: Set a personal rule to wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before responding to any email that initially upsets you.

  • Develop an Email Checklist: Create a checklist for responding to sensitive emails, including steps for objectivity, clarity, and seeking second opinions.

  • Schedule Regular Training: Participate in workshops on effective communication and emotional intelligence to enhance email interactions and professional relationships.


By mastering these strategies, you ensure that your responses to upsetting emails are measured, professional, and constructive, paving the way for enhanced communication and understanding within your organization. Remember, every email is an opportunity to reinforce your professionalism and thoughtfulness, contributing positively to your career legacy.


👉🏽Do you want more real-life leadership tips? Sign up for the Monday Morning Mentoring YouTube channel and the ILS monthly newsletter. Also, follow me on LinkedIn.


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