Break the rude email cycle

Terence was furious. He’d just received another abrupt, demanding email from his colleague, Tamara. He was fed up with her tone.

Terence came to me for advice on how to handle Tamara. Over three coaching sessions, he learned how to manage her behaviour professionally and assertively. Here are the steps Terence used to request that Tamara change her ways. You can use the same steps to handle colleagues who send rude emails.

If it’s rude, reply face-to-face

Never get into an email war. Replying to a rude email with a smart response or aggressive come-back will only escalate the situation. So get out from behind your computer. Go and see you your colleague. Or, if they’re in a remote location and a face-to-face conversation isn’t possible, call them.

Take a copy of the email with you

Think of the discussion you need to have as being a feedback conversation. To make your feedback meaningful, you need to provide specific examples. Do this by placing a copy of the email between you and the person who wrote it. Point to a sentence sounds rude. Then say “To me, this sentence comes across as abrupt/angry/demanding, because of the words …..Is this how you wanted it to sound?”

Acknowledge their response

It’s likely your colleague will attempt to explain away the tone of their message at this point. Don’t argue or interrupt. Simply listen. Then summarise their explanation. You can use the phrase “So you’re saying…” to lead into this summary. Resist the temptation to refute what your colleague has said. Just feed their points back to them, one by one.

Repeat your interpretation

Reinforce the fact that the wording of their email didn’t sit well with you. The following phrases can be used to do this:

“Unfortunately, that’s not how your message sounded to me”
“It’s unfortunate your email didn’t communicate that”
“And that’s not how your message sounded when I read it.”

Next, repeat the interpretation you gave to their message. Start this part of the conversation by saying “What I thought you meant was…” or “It sounded to me as though you were saying…”

Request a change of behaviour

Finish the discussion politely but firmly. Explain what you’d like them to differently the next time they email you. Then thank them for listening to you and close the conversation.

Need advice on handling a difficult situation? Book a coaching session with Eleanor now.