In today’s world, digital communication skills are a must-have. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what profession you’re in—you need to be able to use technology to communicate effectively. However, even those of us who are Millennials and grew up with technology at our fingertips struggle with developing this skill. This is especially the case when we are faced with the daunting task of sending an angry email.
We all know that the biggest difficulty with digital communication is conveying the proper tone. That’s why sharing negative feelings with someone through email is difficult—you want to have just the right tone. You don’t want to sound too mean, but you also want to make it clear that you are frustrated. And you know that sugar coating the problem may only allow it to persist.
The first piece of advice I have is that you should only send an angry email if you absolutely have to. If at all possible, have this conversation in person. Although it might be more difficult in some ways, it will be easier in other ways. Face-to-face conversations erase the potential for your tone to be misunderstood, and they allow for easier, in-depth conversation. Today, many companies operate solely on a virtual basis, or at least partially do so, and those in-person conversations aren’t possible. Email communication is important, if not necessary.
When you need to send an angry email (or frustrated, or irritated, or generally-not-pleasant email), be sure to go through these steps first.
Calm Down First
Before you start typing that angry email, take some time to cool off. You don’t want to say anything you’ll regret in this email—because once it’s out there, it’s permanent! Some people may suggest writing out a draft of the email while you’re still angry, just to get your feelings out, and you might prefer that method. Personally, I feel that writing angry words just makes me even more upset. Instead, I take some time to process the situation and calm down first. You might find that you’re not actually angry after all, and then you will write an entirely different kind of email. After doing a relaxing activity, if you find you are still upset, then that is the time to sit down to begin writing the angry email.
Clearly State the Intent of Your Email
Now it’s time to start writing this angry email. Start out with a friendly greeting, and then immediately outline why the email is being sent. State the issue simply and concisely. If you try to dress up the language or skirt around the issue, then your message might not get through. You don’t want the recipient to be confused about the intent of the email.
For example, say an employee at work made a big mistake on a project. In the email, clearly state what that mistake was. Then say that you are emailing to discuss why what was done is incorrect and outline what should have been done instead. Not only will this erase any potential confusion, but it also turns this angry email into a constructive one.
Keep it Professional
Don’t be completely fueled by your anger. Stick to stating objective facts of the situation, and not just your opinion of the person. You don’t want this to become a personal attack, though you may feel upset with them on a personal level. Doing this will accomplish a couple of important things: it will make your tone easier to understand, and it will make the recipient more open to reading the email and accepting your feedback.
Let’s continue our example. If an employee makes a major mistake, stick to criticizing their mistake, not them as a person. You should say something like, “The work produced was not up to our standards because…” instead of “You failed to produce work that meets our standards.” This might be hard to do all the time, but at least make an effort. It will have a positive impact on the way the recipient reads your email. Hopefully, thanks to your efforts, the recipient will be more motivated to fix the problem and do better next time rather than be frustrated with the situation.
Include Some Positive Reinforcement
Avoid beating up on the recipient. In addition to discussing why you are frustrated, point out something good that the recipient did. It’s highly unlikely that every single thing they did was incorrect. Compliment their work ethic or teamwork. Any positive reinforcement will be greatly appreciated. It will also help you out in the future because the recipient will know what to repeat next time they are given a task to perform.
Offer Possible Solutions
Make this angry email a constructive one too by offering solutions to the problem that has been created. Give the recipient a chance to fix their mistake instead of just doing damage control yourself. Maybe you could also allow them to come up with some possible solutions on their own. This is the only way they will improve in their job! Offering a second chance turns this bad situation into an opportunity to learn.
Open the Lines of Communication
Offer to meet in person to discuss the issue further, if at all possible. If it’s not, you can propose to talk on the phone or continue conversing over email. No matter how difficult it may be, it’s important that the recipient knows they have the opportunity to talk to you about this situation. You can hear their side of the story and let them explain why what they did was a mistake, and then discuss those possible solutions. Opening the lines of communication will make you a good leader and give them the chance to prove that they are great too.
Sign Off with a Kind Message
Don’t leave a bitter taste in the recipient’s mouth by ending the email on a bad note. The point of this email is to enact change, right? If you want that to happen, the recipient shouldn’t feel beaten down. They should feel motivated to rectify the situation.
If you follow all these steps, you will avoid the awkward—and potentially damaging—situation of sending an overly angry email. By taking some time to calm down and going through the process of writing and sending this email with a rational mindset, you won’t harm this relationship.