SUMMARY POINTS

  • Rude emails at work can make us feel really shitty
  • Take a measured approach instead of instantly reacting
  • Keep your cool and you’ll win every single time, guaranteed
Emails have to be one of the worst parts of any office job. The time spent reading and responding to messages, organizing our mailbox and on general email admin is insane.

We spend more time on email than we do on our actual jobs.

So emails are bad enough as it is but every so often, you get that one email that totally fucks up your day.

We’ve all experienced it.

You click open just like you’ve probably done a thousand times already that morning, and as you read your mood gradually mutates from mild disinterest to disbelief to shock to anger back to disbelief and then finally to blind rage.

As you angrily type out your reply, you can feel the heat rising in your body. You feel like you’re gonna explode.

You start getting the side-eye from your coworkers because of your noisy typing, huffing and general aura of negativity. But, you barely notice. You’re laser focused on writing the best possible come back to this rude-ass email, and nothing and no one can stop you.

Since your aggravator decided to take a jab at you in a group email, you happily “reply all”, thinking “I’ll show you - don’t fuck with me.”

You hit “send” and head to the breakroom to cool off.

As the fog of anger starts to dissipate, you slowly start to think more clearly about your email response. As your body returns back to normal temperature, you finally get that uh-oh moment, “what did I just do?!”

You race back to your desk and re-read your email. It’s bad, really bad.

You want to use the recall function, but that’ll just make things worse by drawing more attention to it. The damage is already done and is now spreading to all recipients and maybe, even being forwarded to others in the organization.

The rest of your day is now an anxiety filled volley of angry emails going back and forth. Dealing with arguments at work whether it’s via email, phone or in-person can derail your day big time. You can’t focus on your real work anymore. You’re just pissed off for the rest of the day.

Emails are annoying at the best of times, but messages that we perceive to be rude - especially when sent to a group - have the ability to get under our skin like almost nothing else at work.

We’ve all heard the phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right” but what are we supposed to do? Just take it and do nothing?!

Well, not quite - but there are a ton of much better ideas than throwing back an email grenade in all caps that ends with a virtual middle finger.

Why Do Rude Emails Get To Us?

Rude emails trigger a strong reaction from us because the email feels like someone is insulting us straight to our face, in person, right in front of a crowd of peers.

Of course, nobody likes to be spoken down to or shown up in front of others. But there are some additional factors unique to these kinds of emails that make them so damn painful.

1. Lack of Tone

When we have a conversation with someone face to face, it’s made up of so much more than just words. We hear the tone of their voice, see their facial expressions, read their body language and can pick up their general energy.

Email strips all of that context away. What we’re left with is just words, plain and simple.

That leaves us to do the work of contextualizing those words.

So, if we perceive that someone is annoyed at us or being rude towards us, our minds automatically go with that idea. Take the simple sentence “I’m waiting on you for that project.”

This is a harmless sentence and when said in person, it can be taken as just a friendly reminder.

However, on email, especially if it’s a group email, it can be misconstrued as an attack.

From this one sentence, we could deduce that this person is not just calling us out on being a lazy slacker, but perhaps even calling our whole ability to do our job into question.

Which brings us on to…

2. It Feels Like A Professional Attack

Often when someone criticizes our work or work ethic, it can feel like they’re taking a shot at our entire professional career.

Humans are pretty bad at taking on criticism - both in life and in work - and for some reason, our brains are biased to focus on negatives to the point where they completely eclipse any positives.

In addition to this, we all know that getting ahead in our careers isn’t just about our work. It’s also about our personal brand and perception. Therefore, the idea that our professional image might be called into question is a scary one, and one that can set us off big time.

3. It Feels Like A Personal Attack

Depending on the contents of the email, it could cross the line from being a professional attack to feeling much more personal.

An email that makes reference to something that is a personality trait rather than work output - being late, your mood or demeanor, your appearance - will, understandably, cut even deeper because it’s no longer about you as an employee or colleague, but rather you as a person.
email cc insult

4. It’s Embarrassing

Being scolded or trash-talked in an email sends us right back to our days as a kid. Getting told off by your parents in front of your friends, or getting picked on by bullies in front of your schoolmates were both mortifying experiences.

And here you are, a grown-ass human being and now this Nancy wants to come and treat you the same way?! Hell no!

Even if the email is just between you and this other person, there’s an embarrassment that comes with them even thinking it’s okay to address you in this way.

Of course, if you’ve actually done something wrong, it’s even more embarrassing.

Being called out on something and knowing full well that the other person calling you out is totally correct is the worst, especially when they’re cc’ing the entire company.

So, our intense emotional response to rude emails makes sense. But how can we deal with all these feelings and do something productive with them?

How To Handle Rude Emails The Grown Up Way

Whether in a one-on-one message or a wider group email, rude emails are painful to receive and difficult to follow up in the right way.

But it’s important to not have a knee-jerk reaction and instead, take time to figure out the true sentiment of the email and then take methodical and appropriate actions, rather than instantly firing a missile back at the sender.

VIDEO: How to handle aggressive emails
YOUTUBE: Howdini
LENGTH: 3:39
Summary points:
  • Don’t respond right away, wait and give yourself time to think things through before replying
  • Sometimes people hide behind email so reach out for a face-to-face conversation
  • Don’t create more drama by including other people

Step 1: Take A Timeout & Breathe

When we get an unpleasant email, our minds automatically treat it like a threat and just like in the real world, it puts our body into fight or flight mode.

We get all clammy, our breathing starts to quicken, our heart rate jumps, our blood pressure increases, etc. It’s like in the cartoons - there’s steam blasting out of your ears and the top of your head is blown off.

The first and most important thing to do is to calm the fuck down.

This is best done with some slow deep breathing, even just a one-minute meditation will do the trick. Better yet, step away from your desk and head outside for some fresh air. Just get away for a few minutes.

When we’re in an anxious state, we get brain fog and make bad decisions, so finding some calm is the first step in most stressful situations.

You might even find that once you calm down and read the email again, it actually doesn’t sound so bad.

Step 2: Read The Message Carefully

Especially in situations where we might actually be in the wrong, or when we have a difficult relationship with the person sending the email, we can end up perceiving rudeness that isn’t really there.

Once you’ve taken some deep breaths and feel more level headed, re-read the email carefully.

Remember, emails can’t carry tone so you might be misinterpreting something that wasn’t intended to be rude by the author of the email. Take some time to truly understand the facts of the email and decipher the intention of the words.

You might find that it doesn’t seem so rude after all, and let it go.

Or, it might be very obviously malicious. If so...

Step 3: Type Out A Separate Angry Reply

Now, it should go without saying but do not click reply and type this out. If you accidentally hit send, no IT miracle or magic will save your ass.

Instead, open a new draft email, leaving the “To” field blank, and type out everything you want to say to this workplace wanker in all its insulting, curse ridden glory. Don’t hold back! Get it all out of your system so you can be free.

Slam those keys as if they are the ones that wronged you and then click save.

You can re-read it later when you’ve cooled off and feel less pissed off. Then, you can laugh at how over the top you sound and thank yourself for not sending it and then delete the draft.

This is a great way to get all that bad mojo outta your system without risking your reputation.

Step 4: Do Not Reply Right Away Or Forward 

Don’t let your raw emotions take control and start furiously typing up a response - that’s what step #3 is for. The initial timeout and fake reply are good first steps to settle your nerves and clear out your emotions.

Now, take it a step further here and let the original email just sit in your inbox for a full business day.

Most people find that a reply by the next one or two business days is acceptable. So, don’t feel pressured to reply immediately. Let that email sit for a day.

Oftentimes, these things don’t look so bleak after a few hours or the next day. You may even read it again and see a totally different side to the message.

Next, it can be tempting to pass this email on to your work BFF or boss, especially if you’re still unsure and you’re looking for validation that the email is, in fact, rude.

But this is a bad idea.

Not only will it create office gossip drama but it could easily get back to the original sender and make you look immature, petty and unprofessional.

It’s time to grow up and be an adult at work. This isn’t high school. You can handle this by yourself instead of ranting to and through others.

Step 5: Don’t Take It Personally

At this point, it’s a good idea to remind yourself that even if the email feels personal, it’s not.

Remember, when people treat us in this way, it’s usually everything to do with them and nothing to do with us. It’s a reflection of what they hate about themselves.

We all have a ton of shit to do at work and everything can’t be #1. So you missed their deadline, deprioritized their request or put it on the backburner. Is it really that big of an issue?

No, probably not.

But when you compound it on top of managing work stress, personal challenges, financial struggles or whatever else that other person might be dealing with, your tiny action suddenly becomes the focus of their rage.

It could even just be a chain reaction from someone else getting on their case at work.

VIDEO: The Chain Of Screaming
YOUTUBE: How I Met Your Mother
LENGTH: 1:24
So, whatever the contents of the email, just remember that it’s probably not personal. They’re most likely having a rough day at work.

Step 6: Craft Your Response

The best way to put someone in their place when they’re rude to you is to kill them with kindness. Always send the response as a one-to-one email, even if the initial email was a group broadcast message.

As mentioned, usually these kinds of messages are sent because the person was in a shitty mood or had misplaced anger, so responding with compassion may actually force them to stop and look at their actions and apologize.

When crafting your response, start it as a clean draft email without any recipients and not part of the original string. This will prevent any accidental premature “sends” and alleviate any paranoia.

Next, be sure to address the inappropriate email with a sentence along the lines of “Your email came across as a bit rude/harsh in tone. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.” This will tell the sender that the email wasn’t taken lightly and that you have set clear boundaries.

Next, if you were in the wrong in any way, be sure to own up to it and apologize. For example “I’m sorry that I missed your deadline. I’ve got a lot on my plate.”

If you can’t seem to find a valid reason for the person’s behavior, then take the initiative to clarify everything in this email response. This way if there is a misunderstanding, it can be sorted out.

Reply in a calm, professional manner with kindness sprinkled in. Offer to help clarify things further in person. The overall wording should be neutral or biased a bit toward positivity.

Avoid using all caps, bold, exclamation marks or sarcasm and of course, expletives (that’s goes without saying). You can make yourself abundantly clear without having to resort to any of these tactics.

Here’s a short example:

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your email. Your message came across as a bit rude. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. Email doesn’t convey tone that well.

Here’s the current situation of [fill in blank].

[Explain further details]

I’d be happy to clarify things in person and help you out where I can. Just let me know what works and I’ll do what I can.

Thanks!


Once you’ve written your response, save it in your drafts and come back to it later in the same day with a fresh set of eyes and clear mind. This could be after a coffee break, conference call, meeting or after lunch. Just give yourself a little buffer time to let it disappear from your head for a bit.

After that buffer time, read it again and if it’s all good, go ahead and copy your message from the draft and paste it into the actual reply email then hit send.

While this will work in most cases, there are some situations that call for a change of medium.

Step 7: Take It Offline

It’s important to know when it’s time for a conversation to be taken offline. Whether it’s face to face, a phone call or a video call, you often find that issues that would have gone back and forth over email for days can be resolved in a few minutes.

Having an offline conversation helps by adding in some or all those things that are missing on email like tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and allows you to resolve things quickly and easily.

Sometimes, you pick up the phone ready to get into a battle only to find out that you completely misconstrued the email and everything is all fine and dandy!

That said, there are a few situations where you know everything is most definitely not fine and dandy.

Maybe this email is the latest in a string of rude messages and tense face to face interactions.

Perhaps this person is purely and simply an asshole. In that case, there are other ways of dealing with workplace assholes and handling the situation.

Step 8: Let That Shit Go

Whatever the course of action you take, when you’re done, move on. Don’t ruminate and keep revisiting the email in your head.

Every time we mentally re-live stressful events, our body reacts to them as if they are happening to us right in that moment. So we end up producing cortisol - the stress hormone - and feeling all those negative effects associated with stress and anxiety all over again.

So it’s important we don’t keep putting our mind and body through that. You’ve gotta break that negative cycle.

Let that shit go.

Whenever you notice yourself dipping back into that moment, make a conscious effort to refocus your attention elsewhere. One great way to do this is to think of something to be grateful for. It’s a simple trick to trigger some happiness which will redirect your focus.

Or alternatively, find and celebrate small wins from the day. It’s another scientifically proven way to offset the bad mojo.

By following these steps, you can address the rude email without getting yourself in a shit load of trouble or ending up feeling like you’re the one in the wrong.

Rise Above It, Be Better & You’ll Win Every Single Time

woman laptop phone smiling
You’ve probably heard Michelle Obama’s mantra, “When they go low, we go high.” Well, navigating office politics isn’t all that different from the American political field.

So this mantra is a great one to remember and use when it comes to handling rude emails.

These emails have a way of ruining our day and can even feel like a full-on attack. You’re literally just sitting at your desk, minding your business and BOOM! Day ruined.

So it’s understandable that you might want to retaliate and put that person back in their place but everything we do at work has ripple effects. You never know who might be cc'ed or bcc’ed on the email chain or have the ear of the person you’re about to virtually backhand or throw under the bus.

And besides, it doesn’t feel nice to get into arguments. Firing off an angry response might feel good in the moment, but in the end we just end up feeling shitty about it.

This happens when we let these emails get to us and we react without pausing first. It’s our decision on how we’ll respond.

You have the power to choose how that email will affect you.

If you choose to stay emotionally detached from rude emails, then your day won’t degrade into an email war of words and you’ll be able to keep your mental health intact.

By working through and managing your emotions and reactions to these emails, they’ll become a minor insignificant blip in your otherwise awesomely productive day.

Not only will you feel like the winner because you’re more friendly, professional and reasonable than the author of the rude email, but you’ll also feel better for acting from a place of compassion instead of anger.

Calm with a hint of smug?

Bring it.

We’ll take that any day over the alternative!

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]

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