Since the inception of email in the workplace, I have truly had my share of nasty emails from parents, co-workers, and other colleagues. Take this latest email from a new parent. The student’s teacher and I had been recipients of several emails from this parent. In one particular email, the parent asked a question of me and the teacher; I knew the answer, so I responded.  In the next email, addressed to the both of us again, the teacher answered, but I did not (I was clueless).  No big deal…right? Well, a week went by and a very nasty email appeared addressed to my department, the administration, and all the student’s teachers. In short, the parent was very dissatisfied that she had not received a response from me and that our department was very unprofessional.  The parent went on to state how sorry she felt for the students at our school because of the counselors’ lack of attention. She continued her rant by stating that other parents should not receive the same poor service.

After reading that email, I think I spent 15 minutes just staring at the computer with a blank look on my face.  Of course, I tried to find all the past emails from this parent to trace my responses; then I began worry about what my administration was going to say; and then I began to formulate equally nasty responses in my mind. At that moment I had to make a decision: respond immediately or wait and think out my response. So what did I do?  Well, I responded, but not the same day.  In fact, I gave myself some time to calm down and I wrote several drafts before deciding to send a very brief, concise email apologizing for my oversight.

Shortly after the receiving this email from the parent (who never responded back to my apology), I found a great article about responding to nasty emails written by attorney Bill Eddy. In his article, Mr. Eddy states that most email is just “venting” and has little meaning.  However, in a real conflict, Mr. Eddy believes email can become increasingly hostile and involve more and more people. He makes some helpful suggestions about responding to hostile emails:

  • You don’t always have to respond to a email that states negative things about you. Mr. Eddy makes a point that you could address inaccurate statements with facts, but leave out your opinions.
  • Since our brain cannot think rationally when we are upset, wait to respond.  (I did this right…YAY!)
  • If your goal is to get someone to do something, do not respond to what they did wrong in the email.  Instead use this technique- B.I.F.F.
         1. Be Brief-don’t respond to criticism and keep your responses short to reduce continued 
             angry emails.
         2. Be Informative-respond to a email in order to correct inaccurate information. Avoid 
             negative or personal comments about the other person. (I really wanted to blast this lady)!
         3. Be Friendly-recognize the person’s concern in a friendly manner.  You do not have to be
             over friendly, but be non-antagonistic.
         4. Be Firm-being confident in your response, tell the person your position or information.
             If you must respond again, make responses shorter and state the same information.
As I know that I will always continue to get nasty emails (sigh), I now have an effective strategy to respond to others. Now, if I can only get students and other professionals to use B.I.F.F. when responding to others on social media….hmmmmmm.
Want to read more from Bill Eddy?  Go to his site: High Conflict Institute 

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