Anger, frustration and the “send” key are a dangerous combination. There is no shortage of articles advising against emailing while pissed and yet it continues to happen. Why? People are messy. We get frustrated, and we want our point heard at any cost.
Well, not necessarily at any cost. That’s the sobering realization we reach after venting and sometimes after hitting send. Whether for you or your direct reports, here are some steps you can take the next time you’re pissed and that email send key is calling your name:
Take a breath. A few deep breaths will do wonders for your frustration. Breathing deep and slow lowers your anxiety and calms your nerves. If that doesn’t work, take a walk either around the block or the office.
Check the urgency. Do you need to respond immediately? Do you need to respond at all? Can you move on and reply later in the day or the next day?
Check yourself. Ask yourself five whys. Start with something like “why does this email piss me off?” Then ask yourself “why does that matter?” to that answer. Repeat until you’ve asked yourself “why” five times. The point is not to understand why the email bothers you. The point is to understand why you are having this reaction.
Write a draft in Notepad. When possible, do NOT write a draft in the reply field of the email program itself. Just get everything you would like to say out in a neutral place. The goal is to release the energy in a way that keeps you from accidentally sending it.
Employ an editor. Send your reply to someone you trust for their input. Naturally, you should take care about engaging other employees and revealing confidential information to non-employees. This step is an important one. Other people who are farther away from the situation but care about you should provide a perspective that is focused on protecting you and your job, regardless of the situation.
Edit. Edit. Edit. The key to responding to an emotionally charged communication is to remove the raw emotion. You should disregard anything that is not core to the point and reply in the most professional, succinct way possible. Unless you’re a Russian novelist, avoid a lengthy reply.
Change venues. If after taking a few breaths and consulting with others it seems that talking in person is best, offer to do that instead. The tone that is missing in email could be part of the problem. Talking directly often addresses the issue.
The point in all of this is to accept the emotions that you are going to have as a human and then manage them as a rational professional. How you manage your emotions and responses reveals a lot about you as a person and a leader.