Email is simply the worst. You can’t hear the intended tone and it is too easy to misinterpret a hastily written sentence. It is possible to write a paragraph that has numerous interpretations. One can read *snarky* into any message. We can feel insulted by a misplaced word, messy grammar, EMAIL SHOUTING IN CAPS, or careless punctuation. We inadvertently create a narrative in our head in which the other person is the aggressor. How the message is interpreted is entirely controlled by whatever filter the reader has on at the time of reading, whatever assumption we have about the writer. Our pre-conceptions and opinions about the other person will influence how we react to an email.
When we are stressed, we tend to flip into judgment and defensiveness. Then we quickly craft a response with the same level of meanness or pettiness we read into the message we received. So quickly can a straightforward message escalate into an email shouting match. Not conducive to professional or collaborative interactions!
So what to do if someone writes you a message you feel to be in an inappropriate tone or disrespectful manner? Firstly, ignore the tone. Secondly, assume nothing. Thirdly, stick to the facts. Fourthly, remember that the person may be responding to a perceived slight from you! You may have started it! Lastly, nothing really matters that much, why give someone the power to make you feel bad?
Mind you, there is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself, but there is no need to be accusatory or aggressive. Call them out, politely and with integrity.
I recently started responding to a message by pointing out that there was no need to be rude. Then I re-read my message in the email thread and completely understood how she misunderstood my request for confirmation as second guessing her authority and expertise. So instead, I wrote a message like: ‘by the way, I may not have crafted my message correctly, my query was actually thus…’ She immediately apologized, answered the question I thought I was asking in the first place and indicated that it had been a week from hell. (Which I think was her way to acknowledge she overreacted.)
Let’s all commit to not partaking in email fighting!