How to deal with nasty emails

We’ve all received them and probably sent them too. Those emails that have a sharp tone, that are critical, negative and ultimately unhelpful. If you’re on the receiving end, you rarely jump into action. Rather, you sit and stew, defend yourself, and get sucked of energy. Critical emails tend to deflate rather than inspire. So how do we write an email, that helps the receiver do the thing were asking of them?

I try and use the technique many sports coaches call, “The Shxt Sandwich.” It starts with a compliment, delivers the criticism, gives a solution and finishes with something positive. ie –

  • “Your attack on the ball is great.
  •  Your passing is inaccurate and is creating too many turn-overs.
  •  Try to stay focused and only pass down the sideline.
  •  If you can keep up your great attacking and pass accurately, you’ll have a great game.”

In a work environment, you can’t over-think every email and decorate it with love, peace and happiness, but you can be constructive, offer solutions and remain professional.

  • Be positive – “Hi Jo, thanks for sending through the monthly figures, it’s a great start.
  • Be specific about the issue – Unfortunately, there seems to be some missing information which is making column B inaccurate.
  • Offer a solution – Can you go back and have a look at that please? Maybe Brian can offer some support to fill out the missing figures.
  • Be encouraging – Everything else looks good and I know you’ve been under the pump lately. If we can get column B sorted out, I’ll send it through to head office.”

Emails can become more conversational and less structured once you have made several exchanges as part of an ongoing issue. In the first instance however, think about how the receiver of the email is going to interpret your words and write them accordingly.

You can use the same technique when on the receiving end of a rambling barrage of complaints. Rather than become defensive, keep it short and solutions focussed.

  1. Be positive – Thanks for the feedback Lucy, I’m confident we can work it out.
  2. Offer a solution – The totals on the report are incomplete because the sales team haven’t filled out last week’s figures. Would you like me to give them a reminder?
  3. Ask for support or advice – I am working on A, B and C. What do suggest should be my top priority?
  4. Be specific about your actions and provide a timeline – Once I have the sales figures and you’ve let me know your priority, I will amend the budget and get it back to you by the end of the week.

Email communication in the office should always be polite and succinct. Leave the emotion for face to face meetings, where your tone of voice and body language can better convey meaning. These may be basic principles, but they’re worth revisiting.

Pepita Bulloch
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