It was a great, nasty, email. I had written everything I wanted to say to the recipient and then some, just in case he didn’t get the point the first 12 times I made it. I finally had enough of being polite and trying to be the “bigger man”, so the gloves were coming off. It was the kind of email I always wanted to send to some board member when I was in the ministry, but due to my pastoral position, I could never do it. So there it was, the perfect retaliation email: a masterpiece of both logic, passion and a big opened can of whoop, well, you know. But I never sent it.
In retrospect, I’m glad that email didn’t go out. It would have been disastrous. I have a few rules about emotionally charged emails.
1. Write the email while you’re in the “moment.” Writing has a way to transfer a lot of emotion and frustration from my mind into a document. I close my door and just have a mind dump while everything is fresh and clear.
2. Walk away from it for at while. It’s amazing what a night of rest will do to your reasoning and perspective. Don’t skip this step.
2. Be passionate, but stick to the subject matter. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the frustration I have with the person, finds its way into the email. You need to be able to stay with the facts, and most important, the facts about the subject matter–not the facts about all the other frustration you are trying to clear up.
3. As much as you’re able, try to put yourself in the recipient’s place. Obviously, you’re not on the same page, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to anticipate a response or reaction. I’m convinced that it’s more important to understand your audience’s motivation and responses than to rely on flawless logic of reasoning. The older I get the more I understand how little reason has to do with how people think and act.
4. Offer a solution. Before beginning to compose a reply, answer the question: what outcome do I want out this? Email rants only serve to get more drama. Write with a solution in mind and make sure that is clear throughout.
5. Have a trusted source read it. Does it say what you think it says? Emotions have a way to rob us of objectivity. A good friend, or even your lawyer, will help you stay on point.
6. Pick up the phone and call. After all of this, sometime the best thing to do is to talk or, even better, have a face-to-face meeting. Email is a cold, easy and often cowardly tool. Chances are you didn’t enter into this relationship via email, and you probably shouldn’t use an email to end it.
What’s your strategy in writing a tough email? What else should I consider?