Why I Will No Longer Send An Angry Email
Have you ever written an email while feeling angry or upset? Have you ever read an email that made you feel angry or upset?
Last week my wife and I got an email from a company that we hired to help us with work at our house. The work we agreed to cost $1,000. Their email said that we also owed a “service fee” of an additional $500. What!?
“Send them an email back telling them that we didn’t expect the service fee and to explain what it’s for!” I said to my wife in a moment of haste and frustration.
My wife responded gently: “Maybe it’s better that one of us call them tomorrow to talk it through.”
Lately my wife has been the guard rails for my emotional email tirades.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a work email from someone that set me off. I remember reading it once through and saying to myself, “That’s really frustrating. I’ll address this later.”
Later came around 10:00 that night. I was tired and wanted to set this person straight. I crafted a well-reasoned response. It had all the requisite pleasantries and formalities and then went right into what I thought about this person’s email to me. I firmly dismantled this person’s point of view and laid my perspective out. Between the lines, the message was clear: “I am right.”
I had enough sense to walk the laptop over to my wife for her approval. “Read from the bottom up in the thread,” I said. “Don’t you think I’m justified??”
“Yes,” she said. “But don’t send the email.”
It’s tempting (and sometimes feels necessary) to send emails connected to high-stakes emotional issues. When you are busy and express yourself well in writing, an email (or a text) efficiently conveys your perspective. Email is controlled, and it allows you to think through a point of view on your own terms. But email has confused, complicated and frustrated too many people too many times.
So I’m working on applying this rule: Never have hard conversations over email.
Email is generally one dimensional, excluding critical voice and body messages (despite the occasional emoticon) that we send during difficult conversations. The book Crucial Conversations, for example, suggests that a central factor for having productive, high-stakes conversations is creating a space where people feel it’s emotionally safe to be transparent rather than guarded.
I don’t feel particularly safe when an upsetting email hits my inbox. As I’ve written before, my inbox is more like the game whack-a-mole than a safe haven for emotional expression.
Other authors have said that having difficult conversations over email isn’t only unsafe, it might lack courage. Discussing an emotional issue “live” is hard work but it can result in greater trust and understanding.
Sure, taking a step back to focus on building and strengthening a relationship is a lot harder than blowing off steam and clicking the “send” button. But putting in the work is what growth is all about.
You’ve likely received an upsetting email. You’ve probably sent an emotionally negative email.
Would you join me in this declaration?
Never have hard conversations over email.