You know who I am talking about. The absolutely most mild-mannered gal in the world becomes her evil twin when writing emails. In person she is sweet and approachable. But when she types out an email to you, it is so venomous that your blood pressure increases dramatically and you actually feel her hand slapping you hard across your face.

Why does it happen?
How do you respond to it?
How do you avoid becoming the bully yourself?

Why does it happen? True confession from me: there’s no question that I prefer email to talking on the phone. It is an efficient way to communicate and it allows me the opportunity to get all of my thoughts down in one concise summary. It also lets me work on my time zone or body-clock schedule. I can write an email at 2:30 AM when I am up with my dog, Max, whereas I would never think to call someone at that time of morning.

Don’t fight emails with emails. Tweet This Quote

But here is the problem: people write emails when they are angry about something and they write them in a state of heightened emotions. In some cases, they are not thinking through the ramifications of their tone. In most cases, they know exactly how the tone will be interpreted and they intentionally want a negative message to be received—because it is all about power.

Yes, the alpha dog writing the email wants to be in control of the situation. By giving you that slap across your face, you are immediately on the defensive. You are then responding to something as opposed to initiating something.

How do you respond to it? First, take the high road by not writing the equally stinging response that immediately comes to mind. As good as you think you will feel by giving her a piece of your mind, the pleasure is temporary but the effects could be long term. Especially, given that the email will probably live someplace in cyberspace for several generations to come.

Instead, take a deep breath then pick up the phone. Call the person directly and say this (note that you will probably get her voicemail): “I just read your email and I think I could better understand your point of view if we talked through it.”

It is important that you are getting across that you are interested in her point of view while your tone is calm, cool, and collected. You will be amazed at how that will diffuse a situation, especially because we know she is really just a bully when she writes, not when she talks. Don’t fight emails with emails.

Know that it will always be better for you professionally to share negative feedback one-to-one. Tweet This Quote

How do you avoid becoming the bully yourself? It will happen to you. One day you will be so aggravated about a situation that you want to fire off an email in a moment of bitter anger. I am all for you expressing yourself. Write it down. Get it off your chest. Say every horrible thing you feel, but save it as a draft and then come back to it in an hour—or a day. Give yourself time to simmer down. When you reread it, ask yourself if you would say that to the intended recipient’s face. Know that it will always be better for you professionally to share negative feedback one-to-one. You’re likely to be less negative when you have to articulate something in person.

Have you ever received a bully email? How did you respond?

Jane Miller

Author Jane Miller

Jane Miller is CEO of ProYo Frozen Smoothie, CEO and founder of—a career advice website—and author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success). She has 30 years of executive and management experience at PepsiCo, Rudi's Organic Bakery and other companies.

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