Number 1 Email Tip: Don’t Send Emails When You Are Angry!

Declan Mulkeen

5 Oct 2016

What do you do when you feel you have been treated unfairly, ignored, slighted or trodden on? Naturally, most of us get angry.  What do you do when you get angry?  Some people vent; others hold it in.  But what happens when you become angry at work? How do you react?

How should you react? Have you ever written an angry email?  Have you ever regretted hitting the send button, sometimes immediately after you did it?

Sending an Email When Angry: Not a Good Idea

Why do people send angry emails and why is it not a good idea? This question is raised in an article published in the Wall Street Journal. The article presents many points.

Over the years, researchers, therapists, and other behavioural professionals have tried to determine whether it’s better to vent or hold in your anger to give it time to diffuse.

The Price of Venting

Venting has been advocated throughout much of history. As the WSJ highlights, everyone from Aristotle’s belief in catharsis to Freud’s belief in talking through problems (and much more) encourages expressing your anger.

However, with the use of modern technology, venting is both more impersonal and more immediate. Venting may feel good for the angry person at that moment.  But they may also vent in a way that they would not have chosen if they were face-to-face with the source of their anger.

The Problems

Emails are notoriously difficult to gauge, especially as they provide no real platform for context, nuance, or tone

Sending an angry email, in particular, is fraught with problems:

  • Emails are notoriously difficult to gauge

Especially as they provide no real platform for context, nuance, or tone. In fact, emails can come across as very direct and blunt.  An angry email can easily sound over the top and out of control.

  • It feels safe

This is especially true for those people who are uncomfortable with confrontation. But it also means that they may be communicating poorly or through pure emotion rather than logic and rationality.

They also create a situation where there is neither an opportunity for immediate feedback nor an opportunity to read body language and other non-verbal cues that would have been possible if that anger was expressed face to face.

  • It’s immediate

People may believe that they are getting rid of their anger more quickly. However, the WSJ cites a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that people who vent are found to be angrier and aggressive after doing so.

  • It is permanent

Gone are the days when what you wrote was read only by the recipient and perhaps a few other trusted people who had a direct interest.  In the age of modern technology, an email lasts… forever.

This is especially true if that email is copied or forwarded to others; it doesn’t take long for a particularly curious email to go viral.  And, like viruses in real life, the email’s intent may have mutated and infected others.

Viruses can also lie dormant, resurfacing as an even more virulent problem much later, damaging the author of that angry email all over again in another context – and it may now be too late for them to defend themselves and their reputation.

In the age of modern technology, an email lasts forever.

What Should You Do?

  • Delay hitting the send button

Many people who like to vent find it therapeutic to write their angry email and then file it away as a draft.  Often after a good night’s sleep, they read their angry email and make a much more rational, considered decision as to whether to hit the send button.

  • Find a way to deflect the anger

Find a way to deflect anger onto something more productive instead. Many people find relaxing practices a good tactic.  Going for a walk, deep breathing or listening to calming music are all effective options for many people.

  • Seek help

Seek help from your friends and colleagues. Some people avoid expressing anger by removing themselves from the situation that makes them angry.  Others find a trusted confidant who has no direct involvement in the source of the anger and can thus give a more objective opinion about the situation.

  • There is a lot of great advice on email etiquette

Check out what’s available on the web. Equally, many organisations invest in email writing courses that teach staff some of the dos and don’ts of how to use email effectively and how not to get into trouble.

Equally, many companies now have strict email policies which often mean that if your cross the line there is no way back. There is a lot at stake, to say the least.

Number one piece of advice: Delay hitting the send button

Whether you are a venter or a holder, write that angry email if you must.  Just don’t hit send!



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