Don't be Another Casualty of Email

By on May 18, 2012 in Current Events, Leadership with 10 Comments

Was it worth it?

You saw his email and just exploded. The words you read caused you to feel hurt, angry, and you wanted to give him a piece of your mind… so you did. You immediately sat down at your computer, pouring an outburst of emotions and even a few insults through the keyboard telling him why he was wrong, why you were right, and you made sure he knew how you felt. Without giving it a second thought, you hit send.

He got the message alright. Now he won’t speak to you, and the working relationship you once enjoyed with this person is now gone, all because of some emotional words written in haste that you didn’t really mean. You’d give anything to take it all back, but it’s too late.

So I ask again, was it worth it?

Irrevocable damages to interpersonal relationships, both personal and professional, can be done in the instant it takes to click a button. When you’re not thinking rationally, it’s easy to forget while you’re staring into a computer screen that an email you send doesn’t just vanish into cyberspace, but rather that a real human being with thoughts and feelings will be reading and reacting to it after you hit send.

Has this happened to you before? I regret to say it has to me. I’ve sent emails to friends or co-workers before that I would give anything to take back because of the damage they caused to the relationships. While I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve endured this, even having done it once before is still one time too many.

So how do you avoid creating a casualty from a thoughtless, emotional email? While you can never control another person’s emotions or reactions to something, you can control your own actions and you can make an effort to be polite and not allow yourself to be guided by irrational emotion. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Wait. If you get an email from somebody that triggers an emotional response, don’t do anything. Go have lunch, go watch TV, go do anything for a few hours and then come back and re-read it. You may see it differently.
  • Don’t reply by email if possible. In an emotionally charged situation, a lot can get lost in an email that you get from the context of a face to face conversation. If you still become emotional after waiting and pondering the situation, I’d suggest not replying by email at all. Chances are the person who sent the message to you shouldn’t have done so for the very same reasons that you do not want to reply by email, and two wrongs don’t make a right. Pick up the phone or go talk to him/her in person after you’ve had a chance to think through the situation, calm down and plan what you want to say. Often times, the true intent of the message can be lost when you lack the context of a face to face interaction or phone conversation which further needlessly generates negative emotions for both people.
  • Take your time. If you do decide to reply by email, take your time. Go ahead and type a reply, but realize that you are having an emotional reaction to the situation and go slow. Type the reply, sit on it for a few hours or even a few days, and then come back to it a few times to read it again and edit it to make sure it says what it should and that you won’t say anything you regret. The sun is still going to come up tomorrow even if you take an extra couple of days to send the reply.
  • Take extra precautions – if typing a reply in this fashion, I will often type it outside of my email program to be ABSOLUTELY sure I do not accidentally send the email before it’s ready. Open a Word or text document, type your message in there, save it, and keep coming back to it. When you are 100% beyond a doubt certain it’s ready, copy and paste it into an email and send it.
  • Ignore it. This may sound like odd advice and certainly wouldn’t apply to every situation. Many times, you cannot ignore something, such as if it is an important business matter. But if a friend sends you an email asking about something controversial, such as a political debate, just don’t respond. I’ve fallen into this trap before and it isn’t worth it. Simply delete the email. You can always discuss the situation next time you see the person, or if pressed later about why you didn’t respond, just say you never saw the email (“It must have gotten stuck in my spam filter.”)

Email is a fantastic mechanism that has revolutionized communication. It’s quick, simple, and cost efficient. But it also is ripe for creating problems if used improperly, and sending emotionally charged messages without thinking about the repercussions can seriously damage your relationships with others. Taking the time to think about what you are doing will help ensure you don’t become involved in another email casualty.

© 2016 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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