6 Must-Know Ways to Respond to an Email Jerk Without Becoming One

Do the emails you receive ever make you feel like you’re living a Dilbert cartoon? I can’t imagine what people are thinking when they send emails that they know will offend the recipient.

Oh, that’s right, they aren’t thinking.

Or maybe they had no idea we’d be offended! Maybe they meant something entirely different from how we interpreted their message.

Or maybe they did…

The challenge is in not stooping to their level and instead taking the high road and responding in the way in which you would have preferred that they had written to you.

Is it possible to act so saintly? Of course! Here’s how:

1. Be selfish
What image do you want to convey to others? Do you want them to think that you’re rude, careless or obnoxious? Regardless of how jerk-ish the other person is, when you respond it’s about your image. Cultivate a professional image in every communication and it’s easy to do if you think about yourself first.

2.Be kind
Do you really have all the facts? Do you know for sure that they meant what you think they meant? Without the benefit of tone or behavior, we’re left to interpret what they’re saying based on our temperament at the moment and our history with the writer. Change the backstory! If someone else (someone you have a better history with) wrote the same thing, would you interpret the message the same?

Someone once said that if someone we don’t like accidentally drops a fork on us during dinner, we’re upset but if we like them, they can accidentally drop their entire dinner on us and we’ll make an excuse for them. Picture someone you like!

3.Be thankful
Reread the annoying message and find something that you can authentically thank the writer for writing. It could just be, “Thanks for your quick response,” or “Thanks for pointing out the disadvantages,” or “Thank you for taking the time to clarify your position.” You’ll disarm them (if they truly intended to be nasty towards you) and you’ll set the stage for a more productive and responsive relationship.

4. Be careful
I’m confident I’m not the only one who has said something aloud and at the moment it was coming out of my mouth, wished that I could just shut it. The beauty of email is that this should never have to happen. You don’t have to respond instantaneously; you do need to respond thoughtfully. What can you say to elevate the conversation instead of being sucked into the muck and into a downward spiral with the other person?

5. Be future-focused
It’s easier to stay out of the gutter if you stay future focused. Try saying, Thank you for explaining. In looking ahead… or, Thank you for bringing this to my attention. In thinking about how we can work this into our 2013 budget…/em>… By refocusing the issue on the future rather than what hasn’t happened, didn’t happen or should have happened, you also take control of the conversation. (This is an especially helpful tip for sales professionals and others who are trying to persuade another person to do something they may not be inclined to do – which is pretty much all of us, all of the time.)

6. Be strong
It takes strength and confidence to take the high road. Are you strong enough to take the high road? (Sorry, Sheryl Crow for the riff on Strong Enough.) Step back. So what if you were right and your customer, counterpart, manager, direct report was wrong? Telling her how wrong she is isn’t going to endear you to her. Take as much responsibility as you can while maintaining authenticity. You might be able to say: “I’m sorry I didn’t communicate my ideas more clearly,” because that is the truth. Had you been more clear – in a way that the other person could understand and relate to – you would have gotten a different result.

You really don’t have to be a saint to email like one. You can maintain your dignity and help the other person to do the same by showing them the respect you wish you had been given. Help the other person feel safe and smart and you might just see the favor returned.

Your suggestions to avoid acting like a jerk when the email you just received makes you feel like one?

2 replies
  1. Angela
    Angela says:

    If I have a negative reaction to an email my first thought is to back away from the computer. I always try to remember that anything I write can and will be used against me – either sent out to a wider audience or sent to my boss. Thus, if I can’t come up with one of the reasonable responses you suggested above, I just delete it without responding at all.

    Reply
  2. speakersue
    speakersue says:

    Smart! One other idea is to ask yourself what could be wrong in the person’s life that he/she would write a rude email. Will he be in some sort of trouble if he doesn’t get what he is asking for? Will she look bad without your info? Changing the backstory about the person helps us to respond more compassionately.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>