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40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 24

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Picture is sort of related.

Photo by owenbooth

Have you ever had one of those emails that, after you read it, made you want to reply back with the nastiest and snarkiest think you could possibly write? I got one of those emails the other day and actually started to compose a reply that I would’ve regretted sending. This email was actually from my homeowners association, so it had nothing to do with grad school, but I’ve had similar reactions to emails from people within the department and in the academic setting. I wanted to share some advice on how to properly respond to these emails so that you don’t start an unnecessary argument or burn any bridges.

The first thing to do when you get a message like this is to just walk away. Literally, step away from your computer and go do something else for a little bit. Take a chance to reflect about what the person sent you and think about what really ticked you off. Then think about what you know about this person and what was not sent in the email. The nice thing about talking to someone face to face is that you get to see their body language and hear the inflections in their voice. A lot of people don’t realize that what they send in an email can be taken the wrong way. When you’ve had a chance to calm down, reread the email and see if the message might not be as bad if there had been other social cues to accompany the words.

The next step is to start crafting your reply. Each situation is different, and some situations may not dictate a reply. For those that don’t, just brush it off and go on with your life. It’s not worth expending energy on and you’ll feel better by getting on with your life. If the situation does require a reply, then start slowly and thoughtfully. Gather your thoughts and try to control your emotions in the face of what seems like a rude or mean-spirited email. Even if you know the other individual was being deliberately rude, you should try to be the better person and not retaliate. It can really disarm people when you respond to rudeness with civility, so form your response on the assumption that the other person wasn’t being rude. I tried to take this approach when I replied to my HOA and I was pleasantly surprised. It turns out that the tone of the previous email came off wrong and by being respectful in my reply, it yielded a much kinder email that clarified the situation. The first email definitely could have been worded better, but by taking a moment to reflect and clarify, I was able to defuse a potentially rude and unnecessary exchange.

The key thing to keep in mind is that, in general, most people aren’t trying to be rude when it comes to email. Some messages are sent so quick that the author doesn’t even take the time to read what they wrote. Try to be optimistic and assume that the intent was not to be rude and you’ll save yourself a lot of anger and frustration.

Please tell me what you think in the comments. Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

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Written by Taylor M.

April 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm